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World XV wings flying south

Wed, 04 Jun 2014 13:29
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You want to play at the pinnacle of rugby
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World XV flyers Hosea Gear and James O'Connor are both aiming to return from Europe next year and play Super Rugby to put themselves in contention for the World Cup.

All Black Gear left the Highlanders last year for French powerhouses Toulouse, whilst Wallaby O'Connor left Australia at around the same time in somewhat controversial circumstances and joined Premiership side London Irish.

Now with a European season under their belts, both players are eyeing a return to the southern hemisphere to give themselves a chance of going to the World Cup in England next year.

Gear will join Japanese side Honda Heat on a six-month contract in July and intends to return to New Zealand after that, whilst O'Connor has signed a 'flexible' one-year deal with Toulon with the goal of playing Super Rugby in Australia again next year.

For Gear, the World XV game against the Springboks is a great chance to show that he still has what it takes to play at the highest level again after a taxing season in France as he looks to finalise which Super Rugby team he will join next year.

"The World Cup is still a long way down the track, it is still another year so for me it is about gaining more international experience and playing top level rugby again so this gave me the perfect opportunity.

"That [World Cup] is the main reason for me going home so that I can make myself available, it is going to be a massive challenge for me and one that I am looking forward to, it gives me a bit of a drive and a bit of a push to go back and challenge those guys.

"We are still trying to sort out which [Super Rugby] teams are available and have spots open, hopefully we will know a bit more by the end of the season," he explained.

Things are less certain for O'Connor who burned bridges at the Force and the Rebels before being stood down from the Wallabies squad halfway through the Rugby Championship last year following an incident at Perth airport.

He believes that the experience of playing in the Premiership for London Irish has matured him as a player, and made no secret of his desire to go back to Australia and challenge for a place in the Wallabies side once more.

"The plan is to play Super Rugby, I want to get home and see my family. It would be good to get back there but one thing I have found in rugby is you can't make too many plans, it sort of unfolds as it is.

"I have signed a year deal with Toulon, but there is flexibility around that. Mourad [Boudjellal - Toulon owner] has shown a lot of faith in me by giving me that flexibility and it is just about finding a province now, play some Super Rugby, play well and just start playing rugby again back in Australia and hopefully it looks after itself," he said.

The versatile O'Connor said that it has always been his goal to play at the World Cup, and feels that he has more to add now that he has more Northern Hemisphere experience.

"I haven't made that a secret, that has always been my goal [World Cup]. You want to play at the pinnacle of rugby and playing for a World XV like this those opportunities don't come often.

"It has always been my goal to play in as many games as possible for Australia and to play in a World Cup is where it is at," he said.

O'Connor knows that the World XV game against the Springboks presents a good opportunity for him to show what he can do at Test level as he tries to force his way into Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie's plans.

"This World XV does not come around very often so I know that I for one will be giving it 150 percent, it is the only Test match I will be playing this year.

"I'm not trying to prove a point, I play for myself and my family and friends but I want to play my best and this game particularly is on the world stage so these are the ones that people are watching and I can push my case forward for getting back in the team," he said.

By Michael de Vries

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