O’Connor’s Irish Move Raises More Questions Than It Answers

o'connor
So, rugby’s worst-kept secret is officially out.  One of Australia’s infamous Generation Y members, James O’Connor, has chosen the somewhat less than glamorous surroundings of London Irish to play out the opening months of his international exile.

It’s a move altogether incongruous with the Wallaby starlet’s image.  A string of off-field incidents led to O’Connor being banished first from his Super Rugby franchise, the Melbourne Rebels, and then his national squad.  There were plenty who claimed that his axing was not before time, and that the new-age breed of Australian rugby icons (Generation Y, as they are known) was in need of a major shock to their communal system.

The self-styled “Three Amigos” – O’Connor and fellow Wallabies Quade Cooper and Kurtley Beale – were split up.  First, by virtue of Cooper’s prompt dropping by then coach Robbie Deans after the fly-half labelled the environment in the national camp as “toxic”, live on television.  Beale’s struggles with alcohol are well-documented, and O’Connor, too, seems unable to keep himself free from trouble and the limelight.  (More on those troubles, and the eventful past of the Amigos, here)

It is a travesty that three of world rugby’s greatest talents are blighted by such poor collective attitudes, lack of respect for their team-mates, and questionable choices away from the field of play.  Cooper, to his credit, seems to have reversed his fortunes both on and off the pitch, and looks to be re-establishing himself in the green and gold.  But for now, O’Connor remains cast adrift in the international high seas; the captain of his cerebral vessel slowly awakening from a lengthy spell drunk at the wheel.

So, with the rugby globe his oyster and the potential for a seriously lucrative move to France, why has O’Connor opted for the Premiership and London Irish?  It may be that the more illustrious English sides had used up most of their financial clout with their summer dealings, but even so, and with the greatest respect to Irish and their fans, the Madejski is hardly a likely destination for one of such high calibre.

Some have, in fact, questioned the wisdom of a known party-animal heading for the hustle and bustle of the UK capital.  Will he stray yet again from the straight and narrow?  Wallaby legend David Campese Tweeted on Monday: “The last thing JOC (O’Connor) needs is a move to London? Party, party, party?  Go to a town and play.”  Campese is famed for his ill-advised social networking outbursts, but he makes an interesting point here.  Would a more tranquil change of scene not be better-suited to a man who so often seems to fall foul of the big-city nightlife?

In any event, Australia coach Ewen McKenzie made it clear this week that O’Connor would not feature for the Wallabies unless he was strutting his stuff at domestic level within the confines of his native land.  That was not unexpected, but the more thorny issue of where best to utilise the 23-year-old and his undoubted abilities continues to niggle.

Does McKenzie see O’Connor as a fly-half?  Almost certainly not.  After Deans tried and failed to shoehorn the play-maker into the pivot role when the British and Irish Lions came calling, he hasn’t featured there since.  With the return of Cooper to test-match form, and Brumby Matt Toomua also preferred in the number ten jersey, O’Connor played out the Rugby Championship on the wing – a spot most feel should be his primary position.

Of course, it could be that Irish Director of Rugby Brian Smith takes a different view, and opts to trust his newest recruit with the first-receiver role.  Will the tighter, physical exchanges in the Premiership stand him in good stead for his inevitable return to the wide expanses of Super Rugby?  Will a spell running the show in such an abrasive league improve his game management?  Will he finally banish the demons that have halted what should – and may yet prove to be – a glittering test-match career?  With the 2015 World Cup looming ever-closer on the horizon, and ever-larger on the minds of players and national coaches alike, the James O’Connor saga is far from over.

By Jamie Lyall – Follow Jamie on Twitter @JLyall93

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

10 thoughts on “O’Connor’s Irish Move Raises More Questions Than It Answers

  1. London Irish are based in Reading, not London, and even their old home ground and training gound lies outside Greater London. Surrey is hardly party central!

    I think the lower expectations in the bottom half of the Premiership could make for a good rehabilitation ground for O’Connor, and the less-flare, more-attrition nature of the northern game may qwell his rebelliousness both on and off the pitch.

    We’ll see.

    1. There are plenty of people who work in Reading and live in London. He’s tweeted he’s off to London to play some rugby. Hopefully they can keep him on a tight leash as we get to see a genuine world class talent for a few months.

      Could go either way, he could knuckle down and get some great preparation in English conditions for 2015 ….. or he could be off to the celebrity hot spots in London. At least it’s too cold to be parading around in the budgie smugglers!

      1. Sunbury is not exactly outside of commuting distance from central London.

        A moot point anyway – even if he signed for Newcastle or Exeter, there are plenty of places for him to mis-behave if he wants to. After all, Mike Phillips has managed to get into trouble in Bayonne – hardly the playground of the rich and famous.

        Hopefully, he’ll view it like the lifeline it is, work hard and give us a season demonstrating his undoubted talents.

  2. I think he wants six months to party before he goes back to Australia, where I believe he thinks that his talent will be too much to keep him out of the Rugby Championship. I doubt he believes this situation will hurt him and I doubt he will show any of his talent for the Irish.

    Reading is not that far from London.

    1. I’m not sure that’s the case. He obviously wants to get away from the environment he was in. And I think McKenzie has shown that he won’t be in the squad on his talent alone, otherwise he would still be with the squad now!

      Also, Reading is very far from London if he wants to go out in London a lot. Either way, Irish aren’t based there, they are based in Sunbury (Surrey), which is definitely not party central!

      1. Sunbury is a lot closer to London in any case and is definitely a commutable distance. He is a 23 year old kid and as stated below, he wants to have a fun time with mates. His decision to go to the Irish doesn’t make sense if it was made on purely rugby terms. I still think he wants to have fun and his decision allow him to be able to party before he stakes his claim in the Wallabies when he gets back.

        The problem isn’t the Australian environment, it’s him. Since he was capped before he was mentally and emotionally ready, he has acquired that sense of entitlement and egotism. Everything has been handed to him, and he has been babied by Deans and the Wallaby coaches, He probably doesn’t even understand what he’s done wrong and why he is being criticized.

        1. Sunbury is obviously commutable but it is definitely not party central and not an easy commute for nights out!

          I’m not convinced by your view that he is coming here to get drunk, his history and relationship with Brian Smith, mixed with the fact that he probably didn’t have many offers due to the time of year and haste of the whole thing, he has made a decent choice.

          He has definitely been sheltered by his coaching staff, but for years he has been criticized by the media in Australia so I think he knows he has done wrong. He is 23, minted and famous, I’m pretty sure I’d be much worse than him in that scenario…

          1. A French club will always be willing to pick up someone with as much talent as O’Connor, regardless of the time of the year. He had more than one offer and some may have been more competitive than the Irish.

            I will be surprised if he still has much of a relationship with Smith. It’s been a long time since Smith was coaching in Australia and O’Connor probably is a different person now too. I doubt O’Connor has much loyalty towards Smith.

            He’s young, immature, and a spoiled egomaniac. He’s going to do what he wants.

  3. O’Connor’s a 12, he runs great lines off Beale & I’m sure he’d learn to do the same outside Quade, maybe even Gerraty, but Ian Humphreys ? probably not.

    Maybe time away from his questionable mates will lead him to get his head down just focus on rugby but in the grander scheme of things “23 year old likes to have a good time with his mates” is hardly newsworthy. It always amuses me how people expect kids in the public eye to be different to kids, if anybody has ever done anything that wasn’t a bit silly or that they regretted afterwards then let them rip him to shreds otherwise live and let live.

  4. Sunbury is a lot closer to London in any case and is definitely a commutable distance. He is a 23 year old kid and as stated below, he wants to have a fun time with mates. His decision to go to the Irish doesn’t make sense if it was made on purely rugby terms. I still think he wants to have fun and his decision allow him to be able to party before he stakes his claim in the Wallabies when he gets back.

    The problem isn’t the Australian environment, it’s him. Since he was capped before he was mentally and emotionally ready, he has acquired that sense of entitlement and egotism. Everything has been handed to him, and he has been babied by Deans and the Wallaby coaches, He probably doesn’t even understand what he’s done wrong and why he is being criticized.

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