James O'Connor concedes pace of Aviva Premiership took him by surprise after London Irish debut against Northampton
Last Updated: 03/11/13 10:43pm
James O'Connor: Produced an excellent debut for London Irish
James O'Connor acknowledged that the pace of the Aviva Premiership had taken him by surprise after his debut for London Irish ended in a narrow defeat to the Northampton Saints.
The Australian - who has signed for the Exiles on a short-term contract as he bids to get his career back on track after disciplinary problems in his homeland - produced a hugely promising individual display as his new side went down 19-14.
His performance was described by Irish director of rugby Brian Smith as "outstanding", but the 23-year-old conceded that he had been taken aback by the tempo of the contest.
"The speed of the game was very surprising," he said. "I thought Super Rugby was fast but I was really blowing out there, that's for sure.
"It felt great. The club and all the boys have been awesome since I arrived and I am really looking forward to my time here.
"I didn't feel 100 percent and can get better. I wanted to perform. It was one of the best pitches I have played on. It was just a shame we could not get the win."
O'Connor set up the hosts' lone try from wing Sailosi Tagicakibau and Smith praised the new arrival for how he had handled himself since arriving earlier in the week.
"James was outstanding," Smith said. "He's 23 and is still just a kid who gets up in the morning and puts his trousers on one leg at a time like everyone else.
Praise from Smith
"A lot has happened quickly to him but he's settled in straight away and showed his class today. The boys enjoyed playing with him today.
"We see him as 15, even though many see him as a jack of all trades who has played right along the back line. And he wants to establish himself as a full-back."
Irish remained near the foot of the table after failing to capitalise on their second-half dominance, failing to convert their try-scoring chances as they looked to overturn a 16-11 interval deficit.
Northampton boss Jim Mallinder was delighted to see his side grind out a fifth victory in seven league outings, especially having lost a number of his most influential performers to international duty.
"We made heavy work of it, but a win is a win," Mallinder stated. "Irish are a tough challenge here, so I have to be pleased."
"We have lost a lot of our players to England but we are managing to get by fine. It's important we maintain our momentum and this will help."
Northampton flanker Phil Dowson, who produced a man-of-the-match performance, added: "The final whistle could not come quickly enough. We were under real pressure from them.
"It was a gutsy performance and another crucial win. It always feels good to get a win away from home."