Utility back James O’Connor’s ARU (Australian Rugby Union) contract has been terminated after a series of off-field incidents. The latest of these occurred last month, when he was reportedly refused entry to a flight for being too drunk. The termination of his contract is a sad fall from grace for a supremely talented individual.
The incident at Perth airport was the straw that broke the camel’s back for the ARU, who announced “an early release from his national contract for 2013 and (we) will not offer him a national contract for 2014.”
It came just a month after O’Connor had vowed to change his ways. He had previously been snapped at 4am in a burger bar in the middle of the Lions series, and in 2011 he was suspended after sleeping through the World Cup squad announcement following a night out.
“We appreciate James’s contribution to Australian rugby and his unique skill and flair when playing, but have come to this decision after looking into a number of incidents in recent years that are inconsistent with the values of our game,” ARU chief executive Bill Pulver said.
“We pride ourselves on living the values of rugby — passion, integrity, discipline, respect and teamwork. James has accepted these values need to be consistently upheld on and off the field at all times.”
O’Connor, with 44 caps to his name despite his still relatively tender age, admitted last week that he needed to change.
“As a professional, I am focused on developing as a person and as an athlete and intend to do everything possible to put myself in the best environment to do that,” he told the Sydney Daily Telegraph.
“I want to apologise for any issues that I have caused and I want express my respect for my team-mates, the Wallabies, and the jumper. There is nothing more important and rewarding to me than representing my country.”
“I realise I need to earn back a lot of respect, and that is exactly what I plan to do both on and off the field,” he added. “I remain focused on earning my place back with the Wallabies and will be looking for the right opportunity to do this.”
The termination of his ARU contract further muddies his already uncertain future – he was offloaded by his franchise, Melbourne Rebels, at the end of the last Super Rugby season, and only Western Force have so far shown an interest in him. However, with no international commitments for the next year there’s a good chance European clubs could come calling.
The loss of his ARU contract will cost O’Connor somewhere in the region of Aus$500,000 (US$470,000) a year. He will not now be considered for selection for the upcoming Wallabies tour to England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Italy.
“We would consider reviewing our position regarding a national contract for 2015 and beyond if we believe James’ behaviour is consistent with the values associated with being a Wallaby,” said Pulver.
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images