James O’Connor feels it’s a matter of when, not if, he’ll be playing rugby in Australia again.
The 26-year-old has spent the better part of the past three years in the Northern Hemisphere, playing for the London Irish and ten Toulon, before one season back in Super Rugby, riddled by injury.
Returning to Toulon ahead of the 2015-16 season, it might seem that he has come to terms with the possibility his Test days might be over after 44 Tests for the Wallabies, his most recent coming in 2013.
The youngest Wallaby in history and the youngest Super Rugby debutant, playing for the Force at just 17, O’Connor ticked almost everything, good and bad, off before some players even crack the Test environment.
Speaking to rugby.com.au in Toulon, O’Connor is unwavering in his statement of intent when asked whether a return home would be on the cards.
“One hundred per cent I see myself playing back in Australia - when is the question,” he said.
“For the time being, I'm enjoying rugby here and there's still a lot I want to improve on and learn but Australia's home and that's where I want to be playing my rugby." - James O'Connor
O’Connor says the sliding doors moments and ‘What if’ questions about his Test career still haunt him in some ways.
“That's kept me up a lot. That's the big question - it'd be good if there was a win-win in some sort of way but there's always sacrifices to do the things you want to be doing,” he said.
“For me, I saw a path in my mind and one that I saw was pretty clear of how I wanted to achieve my goals and how I could move forward as a player and as a person and I think hopefully I'm doing that.
“I guess the goal's always to wear that gold jersey again so to be able to pull that on would be pretty amazing.”
While an Australian return might be on the horizon for O’Connor, a taker might not be immediately obvious and the back says he’s willing to make sure he’s ready this time after early career controversies and that injury-hampered campaign at Ballymore in 2015.
“I've made it pretty clear that my goal has always been to be playing for the Wallabies and playing for Australia but it was the right stage of my life I feel that I wanted to come over and experience something new and just really take a step back to be able to go forward.
While he has been in France, he has watched former Force teammate Dane Haylett-Petty make his mark as a mature-aged rookie for the Wallabies at 27, a journey that might be somewhat of an inspiration to O’Connor.
“We grew up - came through the Force together for many years. When he moved over to France, I was trying to keep him in Oz, keep him at the Force but he did great ,went over to Biarritz, played in a few finals and now he's come back and you see what he's doing,” he says.
“He's really developed as a player and I think he's been one of the Wallabies' best.
“He's been attacking well. It's all about mindset and where you want to go and making the sacrifices and if it means that much to you it's not a sacrifice, it's going to happen.
“If you want something bad enough, I believe when you do the right things it'll come true.”
O'Connor will be back in Queensland next week for the Brisbane Tens but only time will now tell as to whether O’Connor’s desire is enough to make his Wallabies dream materialise once again.