Wallabies coach Robbie Deans says he likes what he has seen in the emerging leadership of James O'Connor at the Melbourne Rebels and believes the national team would be the better for it.
O'Connor has been vocal in his wish to have a greater leadership role and was handed the stand-in captaincy of the Rebels when regular skipper Gareth Delve was sidelined with a shoulder problem. But O'Connor, who will lead the Rebels onto the field for the second time when Melbourne plays Queensland at AAMI Park on Friday night, has sometimes been wayward in his off-field behaviour, most notably when he was suspended for one game for missing the World Cup team announcement and photograph in 2011.
But Deans said he had noticed a change in the star back and he was keen to take advantage of his development when the Australian squad comes together before the British and Irish Lions games.
''It [increased leadership] was something that we were looking to ask of him last year but we didn't see him at all obviously [because of season-ending hamstring problems],'' Deans said. ''We were going to push him into that circumstance. He was seeking it, he's a bloke who likes being involved, in the game he always likes getting his hand on the ball, and he always likes being a player who impacts on the game.
''Obviously down at the Rebels he's been a lot more proactive of late. Sitting and watching [while injured] tends to do that for you as well … he's keen for that team and that franchise to do well and he wants to be part of that and he wants to drive that process.
''There's no doubt that he'll never go back to his former shape. His experience as a captain will broaden him and it will broaden him in ways in which he probably has no awareness at all now, whether it be off-field or on field and that's great for all parties.''
Deans said he had also been impressed with fellow Wallabies stalwart Kurtley Beale's development. ''They're both emerging as leaders in that group which is good … you can see it certainly in the game, but they are becoming more proactive early in the week and they're growing as men and as rugby players,'' he said.
Deans also made no apologies for putting a 25-man squad into an extended three-week camp on June 2 and off-limits to their Super Rugby franchises in the build-up to the June 22 first Test in Brisbane.
Berrick Barnes and Wycliff Palu are among two seasoned Test players negotiating with the Australian Rugby Union for sabbaticals in Japan after this season so they can secure lucrative contracts but also return for the 2015 World Cup.
But Deans said he did not like the idea, and pointed to Rocky Elsom, who left for Ireland as one of Australia's leading players in 2008 and was crowned the European player of 2008-09 after helping Irish club Leinster to the Heineken Cup.
Deans labelled ''nonsense'' the common argument that the offers from overseas clubs were once in a lifetime opportunities.
''We've got to find ways of catering to the players' needs and ensuring they retain their enthusiasm and we don't lose players before we're ready to lose them,'' Deans said. ''There's things you've got to consider. You look at Rocky Elsom. Effectively the board gave him a bit of licence and it probably bit them in the end because it compromised him physically and he never got back to the same level, which is a source of frustration for all parties including Rocky.''