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Australia return for O'Connor confirmed by London Irish
ESPN Staff
January 4, 2014
O'Connor has impressed since his switch to London Irish © Getty Images
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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.

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