O’Connor signs deal with Reds, available for Wallabies
SYDNEY (AP) — James O’Connor has signed a 2 ½-year deal with the Queensland Reds and could play for Australia on Saturday in its Rugby Championship opener against South Africa in Johannesburg.
O’Connor joined the Wallabies squad in South Africa last week, with Rugby Australia saying the 44-test veteran was only there on a “train-only” basis as he returned from a playing stint in Europe. The Reds announced his Super Rugby contract signing on Tuesday, making the 29-year-old utility back eligible immediately for Australia.
Winger Marika Koroibete’s absence from the Wallabies squad for family reasons created a space for the return of O’Connor, who has most recently been playing for Sale in England.
O’Connor made his debut for the Wallabies at the age of 18. By the time he was 21, he had played 37 tests and appeared to be on track for a long career with the national team.
But his last test match for the Wallabies was in 2013 against Argentina. The following day, O’Connor’s contract was torn up as a result of an alcohol-related incident at Perth airport and the fact he had been warned a number of times about his drinking.
O’Connor returned to Australia with the Reds in 2015 on a two-year deal but by the end of that year he was out the door, citing personal issues as the reason why he ended up at French club Toulon.
While in France, O’Connor was fined by police for using cocaine — not for buying or possessing it — and was ordered by French rugby officials to attend behavioral awareness programs.
“I came back last time and I wasn’t in the best place mentally, but also physically I was quite broken, so I couldn’t produce and perform the rugby I wanted to for the team,” O’Connor said in a statement. “I’m finally ready to return and make amends.”
Rugby Australia’s director of rugby Scott Johnson said “It’s time for James’ rugby to do the talking.”
“He’s matured and understands the leadership roles both on-and-off the field,” Johnson said. “He’s been honest and transparent throughout this whole process. We want to back the man to be the player we know he can be.”