It is safe to say that this has not been the debut season Leicester Tigers flanker Brendon O’Connor was hoping for.
The 26-year-old Kiwi – who qualifies to wear the red rose thanks to a grandma who spent the first ten years of her life in Hull – has just four Aviva Premiership Rugby appearances to his name so far with three of those from the bench.
The dynamic openside’s season has been hit hard by injuries, with a hamstring problem keeping him out of the Leicester line-up for the past seven weeks.
But O'Connor’s return against Gloucester Rugby reminded Tigers fans what they had been missing, as he racked up the most tackles of anyone on the pitch (12) despite only coming on as a half-time replacement for Ed Slater in the unfamiliar No.8 position.
And after a frustrating campaign so far, with Leicester perfectly poised for a tilt at the Aviva Premiership Rugby semi-finals O'Connor is relishing the opportunity to get back to work.
“It felt fantastic to get back on the pitch – although it was probably a few more minutes than my body could handle,” he said.
“It definitely beats sitting in the stands and watching the guys play. The hardest thing is being out of the team environment – it feels like you are not as involved with the boys when you aren’t training.
“So the nicest thing is getting back amongst it and helping the guys prepare for the games.
“I certainly wasn’t expecting to play that long and the last ten or 15 minutes the lungs were definitely feeling it a little bit, but I was really happy to be able to contribute.”
O'Connor was not the only Tigers back-rower to catch the eye in their victory over the Cherry & Whites last weekend, with 19-year-old flanker Will Evans putting in a performance far beyond his years on debut.
And O’Connor is certain the youngster has a big future in a Leicester jersey after he packed every bit as much punch as opposite number Matt Kvesic.
He said: “I thought Will had an outstanding game next to me at No.7. He’s already an awesome player for 19 years old, and he made his tackles, forced a couple of turnovers, carried pretty hard and got a few offloads.
“We were really stoked with how he played. I don’t think too many guys at his age could have had a debut like that, so if he keeps working hard he’s got a big future at this club.”
It was not all plain sailing for Leicester against Gloucester, as a ten-minute concentration lapse saw the Tigers ship 24 unanswered points to trail 27-13 at the interval.
O’Connor admits that is a feature of their performances in recent weeks they need to eliminate, but with just three rounds to go in Aviva Premiership Rugby he believes the only way is up for his side.
“It was a good effort by the boys to come back from where we were and win it. That was very pleasing but of course there is still a lot to work on for us,” added O’Connor, who will start in Sunday’s European Rugby Champions Cup clash with Stade Français.
“Going forward we’ve just got to put together an 80-minute performance and not let these sides off the hook as we have done.
“From here we need to be a little more consistent if we are going to secure that top-four spot in the Aviva Premiership. There are three games left and if we can win those it will set us up nicely.”
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