Force ends talks with Europe-bound O’Connor
PERTH, Australia (AP) — Troubled Wallaby James O’Connor is set to join a British club in a short-term deal in a bid to revive his chances of playing for Australia at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
The Western Force, the only one of Australia’s five Super Rugby clubs prepared to hire O’Connor after he was released by the Melbourne Rebels at the end of the 2013 season, issued a statement Wednesday saying it ended negotiations with the 23-year-old utility after being informed that he planned to move to Europe.
The Australian Rugby Union earlier this month terminated O’Connor’s rich national contract for the remainder of 2013 and said it wouldn’t offer him a 2014 deal after a series of high-profile off-field problems.
O’Connor would have been eligible to play for Australia next year if he’d signed with the Force, but would have earned only match fees if he was selected due to his lack of a national contract.
Under Australia’s existing guidelines, foreign-based players are ineligible for Wallabies squads.
O’Connor said he was negotiating with several English clubs about a deal “for a few months” but wasn’t in a position yet to release any details.
“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,” O’Connor was quoted as saying by Australian Associated Press. “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.”
The ARU finally ran out of patience with O’Connor earlier this month after he was reportedly escorted from the Perth airport terminal by police after arguing with airline staff while trying to board a flight to Bali, Indonesia, with his girlfriend in September. The incident occurred a few hours after Australia’s 14-13 win over Argentina in Perth and led to coach Ewen McKenzie suspending him indefinitely from the national team.
O’Connor later told News Corp. newspapers he apologized for “any issues that I have caused” and that he and the ARU had “mutually agreed to put the past behind us.”
At the time, he said: “I realize I need to earn back a lot of respect.”
O’Connor has played 44 tests after making his international debut at 17, but has never cemented himself in one position and has played primarily on the wing as well as stints at fullback, flyhalf and center.
He was heavily criticized after being photographed with teammate Kurtley Beale and a British fan at a fast-food outlet at 4 a.m. just three days before Australia’s second test against the British and Irish Lions in June. In a petulant statement after Australia’s series-leveling win in that test, O’Connor said he had learned from the incident and wanted to put it behind him.
He then allegedly missed the team bus to training on the day before the deciding third test against the Lions in Sydney the following week. The Wallabies lost the series 2-1.