O'Connor's World Cup poser
Fri, 27 Dec 2013 09:53
Australian bad boy Jame O'Connor has some important decisions to make, which could impact on his Wallaby future.
O'Connor told the website getreading.co.uk that he has not made a final call on his future, despite reports in France that he has agreed to leave London Irish for Toulon at the end of the season.
The talented 23-year-old Australia international insists that Toulon head coach Bernard Laporte had jumped the gun when he announced the Wallaby utility back had agreed to join the defending European champions.
O'Connor has yet to taste victory in four appearances since his arrival at Exiles last month, but said: "I'm loving my time at London Irish.
"I obviously have some decisions to make in terms of the World Cup [in 2015].
"I have been told I have to have been playing in the Super League [Super Rugby] for a season [to be selected for Australia].
"That complicates things a bit.
"But I'm loving my time here and the players have been great to me."
London Irish Director of Rugby Brian Smith added: "James hasn't signed for anyone.
"He's got an offer from us, but I don't know what French offers he's got.
"Clearly the French market is very active.
"Toby Flood's been pursued by Toulouse and if Leicester Tigers can't afford to keep Toby Flood, then maybe there's a message there for other clubs in our league.
"We always knew with James that next season was never a promise, but up for negotiation.
"We have put our best foot forward and that's where it is.
"This time of year there is a lot of speculation, particularly with a player like James.
"There has been speculation, pretty much since the time he got here."
O'Connor met with Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal in November, just 24 hours after making his debut for the Exiles in a 14-19 defeat by Northampton Saints.
There are rumours O'Connor could replace Jonny Wilkinson at Toulon, with the former England international set to retire from the game.
But Smith re-iterated his desire to hang onto O'Connor when new London Irish President Mick Crossan's consortium took over the Exiles a fortnight ago and promised to invest in the playing staff.
And referring to last Friday's 3-15 defeat at Sale Sharks, Smith said: "Even in all the wind and drizzle, we saw what he is capable of. He beat defenders and even in those conditions was a threat.
"He's a class player, a good bloke and I'm sure he'll play very well for us in the remainder of the season and as long as he's at the club."
Crossan told the Rugby Paper that he wants O'Connor to become a talisman for the club's intended return to the forefront of domestic and European rugby.
He said: "I wouldn't like to see James O'Connor go.
"I've met him on quite a few occasions now and he's a class act on and off the field who I'd like to help spearhead our march back to where we want to be."
O'Connor left Melbourne Rebels in mid-year after a series of high-profile breaches of discipline, the latest when he was escorted from the Perth airport in an intoxicated state, and vowed to stay out of trouble when he joined Irish where he has been playing fullback.
Crossan said: "He turned 23 in July and all the reports you heard was that you've got this young lad who was off the rails. He's far from that.
"My son's 23 and James has done nothing different occasionally to what my son does most weekends.
"After his first game against Northampton, James attended our post-match Q&A and he held the whole crowd.
"Whether people were seven or 70, he had time for them all and he made sure he spoke to every one of them.
"This lad is very special. Players we sign have to be right for London Irish and James is very much the start of the kind of player and personality we want to bring to Irish. It's about building a community and he can be at the forefront."
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