Sport Rugby

Saturday 21 July 2018

Controversial Aussie star James O’Connor signs for London Irish after Aussie contract terminated

James O'Connor has signed for London Irish
James O'Connor has signed for London Irish

LONDON Irish have confirmed the signing of controversial Australia international James O'Connor until the end of the season.

The Aviva Premiership side were widely expected to announce the capture of the Wallabies back, who will be looking to use the move as a means of forcing his way back into the national squad before the 2015 World Cup.

O'Connor is expected to make his debut for the Exiles in Sunday's clash against Northampton.

"Having decided that I needed a change from both a personal and playing point of view, I spoke to clubs in Japan and France and concluded that the best way forward for my development was to move to England," said the 23-year-old.

"Given that I've left my support network back in Australia, London Irish offered me an environment that I felt comfortable with."

O'Connor views the move to Irish as critical to his "personal development" that would have been hampered had he stayed in Australia.

"Away from the field I need to find balance in certain ways. I've been in bit of a bubble in the last six years," O'Connor said.

"I've enjoyed it and wouldn't take anything back, it's been an amazing ride. Every opportunity to pull on that gold jersey has been awesome.

"But I've been protected quite a lot. I've made mistakes and haven't dealt with them in the way I'd like to.

"This opportunity gives me the opportunity to become my own man and work on that. It's a good environment to do that."

"I've drawn a line in the sand and I want to look to the future now. Obviously, the spring tour was taken out of my hands and it's going to be tough watching the boys at the weekend, but I'm definitely going to be at the game supporting them.

O'Connor will be unavailable for Wallabies selection while based overseas.

Australia play England, Italy, Scotland, Ireland and Wales during their November European tour.

O'Connor played all three of Australia's Tests against the British and Irish Lions at fly-half, but he sees his long-term future at full-back.

"I want to develop into a world-class 15," O'Connor said.

"I've played all over the park which has been a good thing for me, that utility ability has got me into a lot of teams, but at the same time I haven't been able to nail down one position.

"It's always been my goal to be a world-class player in one position."

Irish director of rugby Brian Smith described O'Connor as the "most significant signing in the club's history".

"His signing is the injection of class we need," Smith said.

Confirming the contract will run until the end of the season in May, Smith added: "James is a world-class player and a terrific kid and it is fantastic to have him at London Irish.

"He will bring a huge amount of experience to our group and will fit in well to our style of play. He is fit and ready to play so the coaching group will get him up to date on everything and hopefully he'll be ready to go this weekend."

O'Connor's off-field behaviour saw him ditched by the Australian Rugby Union last month after an incident at Perth airport, where O'Connor was reportedly escorted from the premises after arguing with airline staff.

Australia coach Ewen McKenzie insisted the decision did not close the door on O'Connor's Test career, but admitted the player has to "modify behaviour".

London Irish, known as the Exiles, are currently 10th in the 12-team Premiership with two wins from six matches, and also play in Europe's second-tier competition the Amlin Cup.

After the Rebels announced they would not offer the O'Connor a new deal after two injury-hit seasons in Melbourne, the only Australian team interested in his signature was his former club the Western Force.

However, he ended negotiations with the Perth-based side, saying he needed a fresh start overseas.

O'Connor has made the headlines for his actions both on and off the pitch in the last few years.

  • 2011: August - Suspended for one match and given a suspended fine after missing the Wallabies' official Rugby World Cup 2011 announcement.
  • 2013: June - Photographed in a fast-food outlet in Melbourne at 4am with team-mate Kurtley Beale just three days before the crucial second British and Irish Lions Test match against Australia.
  • July - Misses a Wallabies' team meeting after a defeat by the Lions at ANZ Stadium and also misses the team bus to training.
  • Released by Super Rugby side Melbourne Rebels, with the franchise stating they are "entering the next phase of development".
  • August - Barred from taking an international flight and then removed from Perth Airport by Australian Federal Police following the Wallabies' win against Argentina after he is alleged to be "intoxicated".
  • October - Has his contract with the Australian Rugby Union terminated for disciplinary reasons.

Reuters

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