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Reds firming to snare O'Connor

By Jim Morton 11/05/2011 06:06:07 PM Comments (0)

The Queensland Reds are firming as slight favourites to snare James O'Connor from the Western Force in what would be the province's biggest signing since Wendell Sailor crossed codes in 2001.

O'Connor is expected to make his decision in the next two days and it appears the Reds' Super Rugby rise, attractive brand of football and talented backline may win over the Wallabies young gun.

The Force are pulling out all stops to keep the utility back, while he has previously been linked with a switch to the Melbourne Rebels.

But the Gold Coast product is strongly considering a homecoming after admitting the choice was a "football decision" this week.

O'Connor hardly got his hands on the ball as the Perth-based team lost 20-15 in a dreary arm-wrestle against the NSW Waratahs on Saturday night.

The 20-year-old expressed his frustrations post-match on his twitter account: "Gutted. Ugly game of rugby. Not fun when ur starved of the ball. Bye week, Back to the drawing board. We will bounce back!!!"

The Reds have seen home-grown talent slip through their fingers, often lured west, since the Force were created in 2005 and O'Connor's signature would go some way to redressing the balance.

Officials around the country remain tight-lipped but there is a sense of growing optimism at Ballymore.

Nothing has come close to the recruitment magnitude of former Broncos star Sailor's code switch after Queensland last made the Super Rugby finals 10 years ago.

While O'Connor would loom as a likely playmaking partner with good friend Quade Cooper at No.12 if he made the move, the Reds on Wednesday called up inside centre specialist Ben Tapuai for Friday's top-of-the-table clash with the Blues.

Needing to replace Mike Harris (knee), coach Ewen McKenzie opted against recalling out-of-sorts former Melbourne Storm three-quarter Will Chambers, preferring to keep continuity in his backline with a straight swap at No.12.

In fact, it's the first time in 2011 McKenzie has made less than two alterations to his starting team which he hopes will be reflected with a slick display against the consistent Blues at Suncorp Stadium.

The table-topping Blues have themselves been strengthened with the recall of All Blacks inside centre Luke McAlister, which sees Rene Ranger move back to the wing, and the pivotal return of lock Anthony Boric to improve their struggling lineout.

"They've got all the facets of the games covered," McKenzie said.

"They've got good kickers, plenty of guys who can run and break tackles and make things happen.

"They've got X-factor and All Blacks all through their forward pack."

McKenzie took the special step of making a "call-to-arms" to Reds fans, with ticket sales tracking under the 30,000-mark the Queensland Rugby Union had expected for a top-two showdown.

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