O'Connor concedes Australian return unlikely

International
AFP
by AFP

James O'Connor knows the pitfalls of stardom only too well having gone from being the Wallaby golden boy to bad boy in a few years and now he hopes England provides him with a road to redemption.

The softly-spoken 27-year-old, whose prodigious talent saw him make his Test debut aged 18, told AFP he could only produce his best rugby for his new club Sale Sharks in the English Premiership and not worry about people's perceptions of him.

O'Connor's various scrapes down the years -- including in 2013 being prevented from boarding a flight to Bali for being drunk -- have cost him dearly, including his contract with the Australian Rugby Union.


However, Sale gambled on the dashing back having turned himself round since the former Toulon star's last escapade -- a fine after being arrested in February in Paris on a cocaine bust. 

"If you're going to live like that, you're going to have a low quality of life," said O'Connor referring to his past indiscretions.

“It is what it is and I can't change anyone's opinion on me save only through actions.

"I am only trying to live in the now and not focus too much about what's going to happen in six months.

"I am just trying to get my ankle right (he has had an operation but should be fit in a fortnight) and enjoying the company of the boys."

Australian national coach Michael Cheika has a history of turning round players who have had a chequered past -- rampaging back Kurtley Beale being one example -- but O'Connor is sanguine about a recall to a side with who he had already accrued 44 caps by the time he was 23.

"I have been trying to regain my place for quite a while now," said O'Connor.

"For the time being I want to settle in, I'm playing for a good club and really want to push myself playing at 10 (fly-half) or in a ball playing position.

"I want to be playing for the Wallabies again but if that chance never happens it doesn't happen. I just want to put myself in the best possible situation."  

O'Connor, who said he loved his three seasons at Toulon but thought it was time to leave as he wasn't playing the style of rugby he wanted to, claimed a return to Australia had not featured in his thinking.

"It would be pretty tough to head back to Australia now," he said.

"Lots of players I know have retired as they are cutting perhaps two Super Rugby teams.

"It is not a lie that Australian rugby has taken a hit, we're struggling a bit.

"We (the national side) aren't playing as well as we could. The last Test match was pretty unfortunate with a couple of turnover tries it would have been a different story but we took a tonking (losing 54-34 to New Zealand).

He added: "I'm settled over here.

"I love Australia and I will move back there when I retire but I want to explore the world while I can and play rugby. So for me at the moment it is a win win."

For O'Connor there was no hesitation when he received the offer to play for Sale.

"I played them twice in the European Champions Cup and they should have beaten us both times," said O'Connor, who found refuge in England before with London Irish (2013/14).

"The environment has blown me away. Everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet. They run the ball so clinically.

"What drew me to Sale was how highly Steve (director of rugby Steve Diamond) spoke about the group and where he wants to be.

"It is contagious. I am not saying we are going to win the championship straight away but I don't see any reason why we can't be in the top four."