James O’Connor has lauded an “almost magnetic” understanding between young centres Jordan Petaia and Hunter Paisami as the Wallabies prepare for their final Test of the year, against Argentina in Sydney on Saturday night.
The veteran playmaker, who is set to return from injury, said he took Paisami aside after his Wallabies squad selection and told him of the potential he saw in his pairing with Petaia.
While 20-year-old Petaia was already earmarked as an emerging superstar, Paisami, 22, has been one of the finds of 2020 after making his Super Rugby debut with Queensland and going on to play in four of five Tests so far.
O’Connor has watched their development close up at the Reds and predicted a long and successful centre partnership.
“I actually had this conversation with Hunter at the start of the campaign as the best element of what he and Jordie bring is that they complement each other,” O’Connor said on Monday.
“They can play up and down straight, they can get into wide channels, they can both hit and one of the big other things is that they have a pretty good understanding of each other.
“For me as a 10, they make my job really easy … these guys have their own ideas and they’re finding each other on the field more often then not.
“They’re gravitating towards each other, almost magnetic.”
O’Connor missed the last three Tests with a knee injury and then a foot issue, which he said he aggravated when trying to return too early so he didn’t lose his grip on the No.10 jersey.
Makeshift five-eighth Reece Hodge has excelled at five eighth in the past two games as the Wallabies posted a win over New Zealand and then a frustrating draw with the Pumas.
O’Connor remained hopeful he would get the nod for the final Test.
“You never want to give someone an opportunity in your spot and that’s why I pushed to rush back the week earlier from my injury,” the 30-year-old said.
“Hodgey has done a really good job but I’m still putting my hand up to get that No.10 jersey back.”
O’Connor said the Australians wanted to finish the year on a high and use it as a springboard into 2021 and he felt coach Dave Rennie would name a full-strength line-up.
A win will see them finish a six-match campaign with two wins, two draws and two losses.
“This game is a must-win game for us, it’s very important for our campaign and moving forward as a group,” he said.
“It’s not just finishing this campaign (well), it’s a springboard for us into next year.
“It’s not about handing out a jersey, it’s about winning this game and taking forward what we’ve learnt.”