McKenzie wants to help rehabilitate O'Connor
October 14, 2013
James O'Connor has still not signed on with a Super Rugby side for next season © Getty Images
Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie says he's keen to play a role in rehabilitating fallen star James O'Connor. McKenzie revealed he's maintained contact with the 23-year-old who had his contract torn up by the ARU this month for discipline breaches, the final straw coming when he was denied boarding for a flight to Bali after he'd allegedly been drinking.
O'Connor is currently taking time out with his family on the Gold Coast as he maps out the future direction for his career. The Perth-based Western Force remain favourites to sign the talented utility back, but on a significantly reduced salary now his ARU top-up has been taken away. If he's after an alternative, time is now against O'Connor in terms of finding an overseas rugby union deal or even an NRL club.
Western Force coach Michael Foley is confident the franchise's strong culture would help O'Connor turn his career - and life - around.
"It needs to me made really clear to everybody that we're not bringing in James and merely hoping things work out," Foley said. "There's a plan to get the best out of him both on and off the field. We're very keen to work towards the humility side of things and also the generosity of spirit that James displays in some of the other areas of his life, particularly with some of the charities he's involved in. If we can draw on that and create a program which allows him to spend time in that frame of mind, you start to move people towards more positive ways of seeing themselves. But whether James joins us or not, it's yet to be seen."
While ruled out for the rest of this year, O'Connor will be able to return to the Wallabies next year, if still playing in Australia, but will get only match payments if selected. McKenzie said he was interested in helping O'Connor and urged the Test star to stay in touch.
"We've had some contact. He's obviously working on his end of things," McKenzie said ahead of the Wallabies' Test against the All Blacks in Dunedin this weekend. "I'll continue to have contact but contact's a two-way thing. We've been concentrating on playing footy but I spoke to him from Argentina. I'm interested in improving him as a person so I'm happy to help in that process."
Captain James Horwill said the Wallabies had adopted a team-first mentality over O'Connor's situation as it couldn't afford to be distracted by off-field issues. Horwill said O'Connor needed to sort things out for himself, but also made it clear the Wallabies wouldn't be abandoning him.
"I think the guys have always been available for James if he needs it," Horwill said. "He's a guy who needs to make the decisions for himself and not concern himself with other guys. No one can make the decision for him. He needs to find out what's important to him and work from there. He needs to work out what he wants on and off the field and the guys are always here if he wants to talk."
Bacary Sagna at right-back for tonight's clash with Hull City, with the Frenchman set to miss out with a hamstring injury
Wales' preparations for the 2015 World Cup have been handed a massive boost after confirming they will play all three major southern hemisphere sides in next year's autumn internationals
Live Premier League commentary from all of Wednesday's games, including Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Liverpool
Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has revealed the club are seriously pursuing the opportunity of having a B side competing in the Football League
The official match ball for the 2014 World Cup - the Brazuca - has been unveiled in Brazil, and has already made a splash on Twitter
FIFA have caused more than their fair share of confusion in announcing the procedure for Friday's World Cup draw, with the mysterious "Pot X" ensuring plenty of head-scratching
Which driver is credited with setting the fastest lap in his only ever Grand Prix?
Paul Eddison explains how the French sold English clubs down the river and why their domestic game will go from strength-to-strength as a result
Kieran Read learned he had been named IRB Player of the Year only when he awoke to a text message; the understated manner of delivery seems fitting for the humble giant of rugby in 2014
Months of planning go into each Ashes series yet, ahead of this Test, England are in the uncomfortable position of having doubts over at least three positions in their side
Sir Alex Ferguson has paid tribute to David Beckham, who will follow his former Manchester United manager into retirement at the end of the season insisting it was the right time for the former England captain to hang up his boots
UEFA president Michel Platini has joked that FIFA deliberately pushed back voting on the 2013 Ballon d'Or award to give Cristiano Ronaldo a better chance of winning
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has praised Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes after both scored in Sunday's 2-1 win at Norwich
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger admits it has been difficult to leave club captain Thomas Vermaelen out of the starting line-up
Robin van Persie is in line to return from injury for Manchester United against Everton at Old Trafford on Wednesday night, David Moyes has confirmed
Last Saturday in Quebec Tony Bellew from Liverpool was paid well but discovered just how painful it can be to try and win a world title in the champion's backyard
After each round of Premier League fixtures, ESPN FC brings you its Team of the Weekend. Selected by our panel of ESPN FC experts, 11 star performers, plus a manager, are carefully chosen
ESPNcricinfo previews the third Twenty20 international between Pakistan and England, in Abu Dhabi
Some of the best fighters to ever glove up have plied their trade in the Octagon - now ESPN list the 10 best who have fought under the UFC banner
In the latest edition of our favourite quotes from the sporting week, Wayne Rooney gets shirt on Twitter, Rory McIlroy isn't in Australia for a holiday and Ronnie O'Sullivan wants some Christmas money