independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Wallabies drop O'Connor indefinitely over airport incident

Australia star James O'Connor was escorted from Perth Airport
Australia star James O'Connor was escorted from Perth Airport

AUSTRALIA winger James O'Connor has been dropped indefinitely after an incident at Perth airport last weekend and will miss the Rugby Championship matches in South Africa and Argentina, coach Ewen McKenzie said today.

The 23-year-old was escorted by police from Perth airport last Saturday night after being refused access to a flight to Bali because airline staff said he was intoxicated.

McKenzie said the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) investigation into the incident was not yet completed but he had seen enough evidence to make his decision.

"We're not getting the right type of behaviour from him," McKenzie told reporters at ARU headquarters on Friday.

"From a behavioural perspective it's not acceptable. He's let himself down at the weekend so we've stood him down and we'll move forward without him."

Australia beat Argentina 14-13 in Perth on Saturday and the squad, including O'Connor, were given a week off before Monday's departure to South Africa for a match in Cape Town on Sept. 28. They play the Pumas in Rosario on Oct. 5.

"It's pretty clear he won't be taking part in the tour," McKenzie said.

"The reality is that representing your country is the ultimate honour but also a week-to-week proposition. To be selected, players must consistently do the right things on and off the field.

"We'll continue to assess James on that basis before any team decisions are made about a return."

Uncapped New South Wales Waratahs winger Peter Betham will replace O'Connor in the squad for the trip to South Africa and Argentina.

O'Connor, who played flyhalf in the British and Irish Lions series earlier this year before moving back to the wing for the Rugby Championship, has won 44 caps for his country since his debut in 2008.

While prodigiously talented, O'Connor does not have a flawless disciplinary record off the pitch and has been involved in a string of incidents while representing his country.

Most notably, he missed the official launch of Australia's 2011 World Cup campaign at Sydney airport after sleeping in. He was also photographed at a fast food restaurant at 4 a.m. with fellow Wallabies back Kurtley Beale during the Lions series.

"He's a good footballer, no one disputes that and he's been doing good things for us," McKenzie said.

"There's a track record there of similar types of events so a significant change in behaviour is what's required. So that's the challenge for him."

O'Connor, who is without a Super Rugby team after being dumped by the Melbourne Rebels, conceded after the Lions series that he had some work to do to regain the trust of some of his team mates.

This latest incident would appear to be the final straw with senior players as well as management reported to have lost patience with O'Connor.

The incident could also have major implications on his future with his former team Western Force, the only Super Rugby outfit still in the hunt for his signature, saying they would be keeping an eye on the ARU probe with interest.

If he was left without a Super Rugby team for next season, O'Connor's only option would be to move abroad to play which in turn would make him ineligible to play for his country under ARU rules.

Reuters

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