Australia return for O'Connor confirmed by London Irish
January 4, 2014
O'Connor has impressed since his switch to London Irish © Getty Images
London Irish coach Brian Smith expects James O'Connor to return home for the 2015 Super Rugby season, seeking absolution in Australia and a Rugby World Cup berth.
Sacked Wallabies back O'Connor was tipped to shift to France for the 2014-2015 season, with Toulon coach Bernard Laporte announcing in December that he would join the club.
Smith conceded there was every chance O'Connor would link up with compatriots Drew Mitchell and Matt Giteau at Toulon, given the cash on offer at French Top 14 clubs. But no matter where O'Connor opted to be after his contract with Irish ends in May, Smith predicted it would only be a pit stop before he followed his "heart" and joined a Super Rugby franchise in January 2015.
"James O'Connor is a world-class player and ... he should be playing for his country," Smith said after O'Connor dominated Saturday's clash with Worcester, scoring all the points in a 22-9 win. "James has got his heart set on playing for the Wallabies again and he'll start that journey again in January 2015.
"We've got him through until the end of this season. If we're really fortunate it would be nice to have him for (the first half of) next season. But James is not the person we're going to build our team around because he's going to be playing for the Wallabies again, so he's a bit of a comet across the sky really."
The match against Worcester was the first time Smith handed fullback O'Connor the first-choice place-kicking duties. O'Connor missed two penalties in the first half as his side headed into the break 6-6, but found his range and crossed for the game's only try in what Smith termed a "flawless" second stanza.
It was London Irish's third win of the season, and first since Man of the Match O'Connor joined them in October.
"I'd love for him to stay for the first half of next season, but it's very difficult," Smith said of O'Connor. It's a big fight. The massive money is in Japan and France. These guys aren't making decisions on a (difference of) hundred or 10 thousand pounds. French clubs are throwing double."
Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie has vowed to stick with the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) rule that means O'Connor must be playing Super Rugby in Australia to be picked for the 2015 World Cup. Should O'Connor return to Super Rugby he is expected to rejoin Western Force in Perth.
O'Connor was capped 44 times by the Wallabies before being released from his ARU contract in October after a series of disciplinary issues.
"He's a bloody good footballer. I've said to him he's quite capable of playing 150 Tests if he wants to but he isn't going to if he doesn't get his off-field stuff sorted," McKenzie said of O'Connor after he was cut by the ARU.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Communication error please reload the page.
ESPN rounds up all the reaction from up and down the paddock after Friday practice for the Malaysian Grand Prix
Renault is considering its F1 future with options varying from a takeover of Toro Rosso to leaving the sport entirely
Paul Scholes believes Gareth Bale would be a "perfect" signing for Manchester United and would propel them into the status of title contenders
Eden Hazard has told L'Equipe that Chelsea's Champions League elimination could be a "blessing in disguise" as they look to close in on the Premier League title
Barcelona forward Luis Suarez has said he was treated "worse than if I were a hooligan" when FIFA banned him for biting Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup
Fallout continues from the NSW-Brumbies derby, with one Tahs forward - not Potgieter - surprised by other unsavoury comments during the game, Greg Growden reports
Greg Growden previews Super Rugby round 7. We've also got key stats, team news and all the line-ups to inform your ESPN Footytips Super Rugby picks
Will Mercedes dominate again? Can anybody catch up with the help of a rainstorm? And will the Red Bull/Renault relationship tear itself apart? All those questions and more will be answered at this weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix
Maurice Hamilton pieces together what we know from the Fernando Alonso crash and explains why the latest answers raise more questions
John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year
Tiger Woods is confident of recovering from a poor run of form to qualify for the US Ryder Cup team in 2016, according to captain Davis Love III
Jonas Gutierrez has told Canal+ he will never forgive Newcastle for the way the club treated him during his battle with cancer, but wants to stay at St James' Park beyond this summer
Lionel Messi earned more than €1 million (£740,000) a week last year to make him the world's highest-paid player and Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho was the best-paid coach, according to a new survey
Andy Murray has expressed fears that his game will regress without full-time coaching in a candid exchange with a fellow Twitter user as he prepares to add former world No.4 Jonas Bjorkman to his coaching team
Luis Suarez has laughed off the idea that the Barcelona players have set out to help Lionel Messi beat Cristiano Ronaldo to La Liga's top scorer award
Unbeaten heavyweight Dillian Whyte, 28, (14-0, 11 KOs) tells ESPN where his rivalry with Anthony Joshua stems from and outlines the plan for his career this year after returning from a doping ban in November
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
Who was the first Briton to win the British Grand Prix?
Where does Anthony Davidson's record of 24 Grands Prix without a point rank him?
How many F1 drivers have had one win, but done it at their home Grand Prix?