Rugby

From a pulled hammy to a contract: The hilarious story of how ‘BOD’ won over Larkham to sign with the Brumbies

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The first time Ben O’Donnell met Stephen Larkham the World Cup-winning Wallabies playmaker was helping make up the numbers ahead of the Hong Kong Sevens in 2019.

It didn’t end so well.

“He was with us for the week lead-up and because we only used to travel with 13, it was hard to do seven on seven, so we made him jump in with us,” O’Donnell told The Roar.

“He was still slick and had all the skills, but he pulled his hammy.”

From a pulled hammy to a contract: The hilarious story of how ‘BOD’ won over Larkham to sign with the Brumbies

Stephen Larkham saw Ben O’Donnell’s talent first-hand during his time with Munster. Photo: Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Almost three years later and O’Donnell was out on the “sting” a world away in the west of Ireland.

With the Six Nations being played, the former Australian sevens star was lining up for the Connacht second side against Munster, whose senior assistant was Larkham.

O’Donnell starred, scoring a double.

Larkham, who was soon to return Down Under and return to the Brumbies for his second stint as head coach, made his way over to catch up with the larrikin Aussie.

“We had a game against them and thank God I played all right in it,” O’Donnell recalled.

“After it he said, ‘what are you up to next year sort of thing?

“I was like, ‘I’m actually off contract.’

“And he was like, ‘And you’re going to re-sign, are you?’

“I said, ‘Probably not’.

“He said, ‘I’ll speak to you tomorrow’. And I did, contract next week, it was signed, and I was done.”

O’Donnell, 27, spent two years at Connacht under former Brumbies and national sevens coach Andy Friend.

But his progression was somewhat stalled by the fact Connacht had former Reds and Brumbies back-rower Jarrad Butler and Australian Sevens flyer John Porch at the club.

Former national sevens star Ben O’Donnell has joined the Brumbies. Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images

With only two internationals allowed to feature in any one matchday 23, it often meant O’Donnell was the odd man out.

In an interview with The Roar in November, Friend backed O’Donnell to succeed and said he was “a bit unlucky”.

O’Donnell said he was drawn home to play in Super Rugby to scratch an itch that always existed.

The happy-go-lucky O’Donnell turned up in Canberra knowing only Larkham and Ed Kennedy, but moved in with Wallabies hooker hooker Connal McInerney, who is “probably the funniest bloke I’ve ever met.”

Pre-season came and went, with O’Donnell saying he found it a breeze compared to what he experienced during his days in the sevens team.

“A sevens pre-season is ridiculous,” he said.

“It’s all high-speed metres, repeat efforts; usually a seven pre-season your resting is a conditioning set, which is cooked. ‘This is your rest boys, just do some conditioning.’

“I remember the anxiety I used to have before a sevens pre-session. It’s nothing compared to the XVs.”

O’Donnell knows the competition will be stiff to make the matchday 23.

With Wallabies regular Tom Wright likely to play fullback and Andy Muirhead a strong contender for one wing, he likely faces a challenge against fellow Australian Sevens star Corey Toole, who comes after a breakout year on the World Series Sevens circuit, for a place on the other wing.

But the man known as ‘BOD’ believes he can still make a difference in the backline.

“From our initial chats, he [Larkham] thought I could do a job sort of anywhere in that backline,” O’Donnell said.

“I do see myself being able to move into a centre role and get more in the middle ball-playing, but at the moment the way we’re playing – wingers and fullbacks and centres, it’s just the way rugby’s developed as well, they’re all similar players and can do similar things – everyone is interchangeable.”

Ben O’Donnell believes his pace is more deceptive than meets the eye. Photo: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

The question is whether he still has his pace that made him so elusive an effective in sevens?

“I’m still up there,” he quips.

“I’m no Corey Toole, he’s leaving us all in the dust. He’s electric. He runs like a greyhound.

“I’ve always described myself, never as a Cheslin [Kolbe], never a bloke that will be someone clean, I’m a slippery character. Slippery hips.

“It was the same thing as sevens, I’d never beat someone out-and-out, leave on the ground, I’d slip by.”

As for what he has noticed from Larkham, who spent three seasons in Ireland, O’Donnell says the Wallabies great is clearly trying to build the same love within the community by what he experienced at Munster.

“He’s obviously ridiculously well respected around the ACT and Australian rugby by everyone, but he sees the game well, he’ll be picking up blokes on reviewing training and games and saying, ‘What were you doing here, why didn’t you see this?’ It’s good to see that his playing brain is still sharp,” O’Donnell said.

“His biggest thing so far is growing the game, especially in the ACT. Coming away from Ireland, I think he saw how big the game is there. The Irish just love it. We’ve been in the community heaps. We’re just trying to grow the game.”

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