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Reds boss backs Graham as JOC looms
May 12, 2014
London Irish's James O'Connor kicks a penalty, London Iris v Sale Sharks, Aviva Premiership, Madejski Stadium, Reading, May 10, 2014
Queensland remains tight-lipped over James O'Connor © Getty Images
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Queensland Reds boss Jim Carmichael has launched an impassioned defence of his besieged coach and players amid strong rumours wayward Wallabies back James O'Connor is poised for a controversial return home.

Carmichael would not confirm whether O'Connor is set to boost the Reds' 2015 Super Rugby roster but admitted he was in the process of addressing their current deficiencies. The 2011 champions, who also made 2012 and 2013 play-offs, have spiralled out of control this season to be 13th under Richard Graham following five straight losses.

Wallabies halves Will Genia and Quade Cooper have struggled without strike power out wide and O'Connor would certainly give them added punch and creativity to take pressure off Cooper. It's understood the 44-Test back has received a lucrative offer despite concerns regarding his history of misdemeanours and individual attitude. Carmichael said the Reds were open-minded as they tried to improve their list.

"I don't have a closed mind on anything," the QRU chief executive told AAP. "We're working through what we would call the deficiencies we have as we speak. There's a lot of pressure on us and we need to cop it on the chin and just live in that pressure-cooker at the moment without distracting people with who we may or may not sign."

The Reds had been left standing as the only Australian franchise interested in the trouble-prone yet skilful utility since the Western Force pulled out of talks last month. Sent packing by Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie last year, O'Connor has just played his last game for London Irish in the English Premiership and is keen to play at next year's IRB World Cup.

His club coach, Australian Brian Smith, has praised the 23-year-old for his behaviour and maturity, and expected him to return home and play 100 more Tests.

"He's back on the horse now and he's kept his nose clean," Smith told The Telegraph in London. "He's grown up a lot over the last few months."

Although O'Connor was raised on the Gold Coast and schooled in Brisbane, the Reds initially appeared an unlikely destination with Graham, the coach who let him go at the Western Force in late 2011 following self-centred demands, in charge.

Carmichael was at pains to point out Graham was safe despite a 3-8 record, and a form line that has dropped with each defeat.

"Absolutely unequivocally," he said, pointing to difficulties with injuries and list management. "We still believe we are a very good team." Carmichael rubbished reports of a divided team.

"You can say this to the bank, what we have in our senior group is a complete dedication to what we have been working to," he said. "I categorically can tell you that we have no divide. It infuriates me when I read it. It infuriates our playing group. It infuriates our coaches and our board. There's no divide in that team, they're just incredibly disappointed they're not getting the results at the moment and they're a proud, proud bunch of blokes."

© AAP
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