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Greg Growden
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After more than 30 years with The Sydney Morning Herald and Fairfax Media in Australia, Greg Growden now writes exclusively online for ESPNscrum. Never afraid to step on toes, you can expect plenty of compelling insight from one of Australia's most renowned rugby writers.
Greg Growden writes ...
An open letter to James O'Connor
Greg Growden
September 19, 2013

Dear James,

I have known you for well over five years now, and as soon as you became part of the Wallabies framework was dazzled by your extroverted personality and innate football skills.

In three decades travelling the world with the Wallabies, I have never met a more confident Australian representative. I have been impressed with your self-belief. Your willingness to take an interviewer head-on. I love how you stare your inquisitor right in the eye and give him your full attention. How can you not like your eagerness in convincing all that you can do anything, your willingness to run through walls and then waltz, pirouette with the best of them.

I vividly recall you as a young punk late one night flinging a football to a team-mate down the back streets of the majestic Italian city of Padua. There is so much energy and bravado about you. Something to cherish. You always appear to want to enjoy life.

I happily recall bumping into you in the back streets of Wellington during the last World Cup tournament and having a long, enriching chat where your enthusiasm about the campaign, and passion in wanting to improve your skills, shone through. As usual, you had a football in your hands - flicking it from hand to hand, wanting it to be an inherent part of your body.

The Ups and Downs of James O'Connor

  • April 2008: Becomes youngest Super Rugby debutant at 17 when he played off the bench for Western Force against Queensland Reds
  • November 2008: Becomes second youngest Wallabies player when, aged 18, he debuts off the bench against Italy in Padua
  • June 2009: Scores three tries in his Wallabies starting debut against Italy in Canberra
  • April 2011: Confirms deal with Melbourne Rebels from 2012
  • August 2011: Suspended for one match and given a suspended fine after missing the Wallabies' official Rugby World Cup 2011 announcement
  • June 2013: Photographed at a Melbourne fast-food outlet at 4am in the week of the Wallabies' second Test against the British & Irish Lions
  • July 2013: Fails to attend Wallabies team meeting after a loss to the Lions at ANZ Stadium
  • July 2013: Released by Super Rugby side Melbourne despite being a Wallabies regular. The Rebels state the franchise is "entering the next phase of development"
  • September 2013: Removed by Australian Federal Police from Perth Airport after the Wallabies' win against Argentina. AFP reports he was intoxicated.

As for your on-field abilities, I have been a long-time supporter. You do have special qualities. And you have the ability to be one of the truly great Wallabies. But. There is one enormous "but". You have to rein in the precocious side of your personality. Right now.

It doesn't matter whether you were drunk or not at Perth Airport on Sunday morning. It's the look. And you should know that, especially after some years ago going on and on about the James O'Connor brand.

When you have Australian Federal Police officers alleging you were intoxicated at an international airport, which forced you off a flight, that is a very serious issue. Something is sadly amiss, so it is not the time to make the same excuses, and try to find someone else to blame.

The warning signs for you to pull your head in have been evident for some time.

I know the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) hasn't helped with their pathetically weak stance over your previous indiscretions, some of a far more grim nature than what occurred at Perth Airport. You should have been slammed hard when you failed to appear at the Rugby World Cup 2011 squad announcement at Sydney Airport. That was embarrassing not just for you, but also for your team-mates - who were disgusted by your no show.

I can understand why you would think thereafter that you can get away with anything when the ARU only slapped you over the knuckles. But that's no excuse for being involved in so many other ridiculous moments, such as missing the team bus to training, not appearing at team meetings, and then being so moronic to be photographed at a Melbourne fast-food joint in the early hours of the morning before a British & Irish Lions Test. As for a ridiculous photo standing next to a near naked model, well…..

The spineless ARU also didn't help you by covering up a scuffle involving you, Kurtley Beale and Quade Cooper on a Wallabies tour of France. The ARU have a lot to answer for, but in the end you're the bigger problem.

James O'Connor sweeps past Francois Hougaard to score his second try for the Wallabies, South Africa v Australia, Tri Nations, Loftus Versfeld, South Africa, August 28, 2010
The more youthful, less experienced James O'Connor had Wallabies fans eating out of his hands not so long ago © Getty Images
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Isn't it enough of a hint that something is desperately wrong when your Australian Super Rugby province happily discards you, and no other seems eager to take you on. And then you have Australian players, including Wallabies team-mates publicly querying your divisive behavior. You have a terrible reputation as a ring-leader. And you really are better than this.

What would be best is that the ARU at last shows some backbone and suspends you, fines you, does anything it can to make the penalty actually hurt. You should not go to South Africa and Argentina with the Wallabies. But if you do, as a significant penalty of other sorts, you should play tight-head prop against the monstrous Springboks and Pumas front-rows.

Seriously, though, you should, instead, go off and have a few days by yourself, think about all the dimwitted episodes you've been involved in. Most importantly avoid the sycophants and get some good advice so that you come up with a mature approach to overcome your problems. It's more complicated than just saying "sorry, I've learned my lesson" for the umpteenth time.

After all, your career is on the line. If it goes the wrong way, it will be a gross waste.

Yours,

Greg Growden

James O'Connor remains a wonderful player at his best © Getty Images
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