The bad boy of Australian rugby (not a title easily gained) has confirmed that he is turning his back on a potential return to the Western Force, seemingly the only chance he had of remaining in Australia and making an effort at getting back in the national squad. Amazingly, according to The Australian, London Irish, coached by countryman Brian Smith, has emerged as the frontrunner to sign him.
O’Connor feels his interests are best served by moving overseas at this time. “I have decided that I will be moving overseas next month as part of a short-term playing contract,” O’Connor said. “I am in final discussions with several clubs and will announce the new partnership in coming days.
“I believe the move, for a few months, will be beneficial for me to develop in a different environment and help me be the best rugby player and person that I can be. It will also ensure that I continue playing professional rugby immediately and not wait until early in the New Year to resume competition.
“I want to give myself every opportunity to get back into the Wallabies side and to represent Australia in the 2015 World Cup.”
In a statement the Force said that O’Connor had informed them that he would be continuing his career in Europe rather than re-signing with the Perth franchise.
“Following the Australian Rugby Union’s decision to not offer him a contract in 2014, the Force encouraged him to take time away from rugby to consider his playing future and to assess if he felt his development would be best achieved in Australian rugby,” said RugbyWA CEO Mark Sinderberry said.
“We have been informed by James directly that he intends to continue his playing career in Europe for the time being.
“The Western Force and RugbyWA wish him well in these endeavours.”
O’Connor’s decision comes after the latest in a long line of disciplinary issues earlier this month. After turning up at Perth airport drunk following the Wallabies’ narrow one point victory over Argentina, the winger was denied boarding onto the plane. The ARU saw this as the final straw, and tore up his contract with the national team. The Force seemed to be the only option for O’Connor, and were willing to try and help him sort his problems out.
“The Western Force has laid strong foundations of standards and values – particularly around earning respect – and our discussions with James included on-and off-field programs that we believed could assist him in becoming the player he aspires to be and to develop himself as a person.
“James has made the decision that is right for him at this point in his playing career and the club remains open to recommencing these discussions.”
Where his final destination will be is an intriguing prospect. He is an incredibly talented player, but is clearly such a volatile and disruptive person that many big clubs, already striking a fine balance with several famous names (and egos) in the dressing room, may be put off. Could this see him move to a ‘smaller’ club, where he would be the undisputed biggest name? London Irish would certainly fit the bill in that regard.
Where do you think the troubled star will end up? Would you welcome him at your club?
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images