Rugby Union

James O'Connor to play in Europe

The 23-year-old will complete a move to Europe next week (©GettyImages)
The 23-year-old will complete a move to Europe next week (©GettyImages).

James O'Connor, the 44-test veteran, had recently had his Australian Rugby Union (ARU) contract terminated, following a number of off-field incidents, usually involving alcohol.

The last straw come when he and his partner were kicked off a flight from Perth to Bali during a two-week break from international duties, when O'Connor got drunk in a bar in the departure lounge prior to take-off.

Following his contract termination, he was left with three options:

a) Sign with the Perth-based Western Force, the team that signed him as a 16-year-old before he departed to the Melbourne Rebels, and take a $300,000 pay cut, and work his way back into the Wallaby set-up and possibly earn himself another ARU contract.

b) leave Australia and sign with an overseas club, probably a European or Japanese club, move that would significantly increase O'Connor's bank balance, but make him ineligible for Wallabies selection.

Or c) Make a sensational switch of codes to play rugby league in the NRL, both increasing O'Connor's bank balance and making him immediately eligible for Australia's national league team, the Kangaroos.

O'Connor has confirmed that he has decided to go forth with the second option, feeling as though his time in Australia was up, for the time being, despite being just 23 years of age. 

Given the utility back's superstar status, the move will surely increase both his wages, possibly well into the millions with the money in English and French rugby, and his profile in Europe.

With the team of which that O'Connor has signed with still unclear, it ends speculation of a possible move to New Zealand-based franchise, the Highlanders, following an exodus of current and former All Blacks, a list that includes props Tony Woodcock and Jamie Mackintosh, hooker Andrew Hore, fly-half Colin Slade, midfielders Ma'a Nonu and Tamati Ellison, and winger Hosea Gear, leaving just Jarrad Hoeata, Aaron Smith and Ben Smith as the Dunedin-based franchises only current or former All Blacks.

The ARU, Western Force, players, coaches and fans alike will all be very disappointed and upset about the 23-year-old's departure, as he was widely regarded as one of the brightest talents Australian rugby has seen in a long time, having been signed by the Force as a 16-year-old in 2006, making him one of the youngest professional rugby players of all-time.

He then went on to score a hat-trick on debut for the Wallabies two years later in 2008 as an 18-year-old against Italy.

He was well on track to become an international centurion, possibly even setting the world record for most international test appearances.

As the Wallabies play 13-15 tests per year, and provided O'Connor continues to be selected and stays injury-free for the next 10 years - he could have added roughly 140 tests to his 44 tests, comfortably surpassing his fellow countryman's world record George Gregan's 139 test matches to become the first international player to break the 150-test barrier.

A decision on O'Connor's European team will be made in the coming weeks.


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Topics:
Super 15
Rugby Union
Australia Rugby

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