James O'Connor admits his career is at the crossroads
October 4, 2013
James O'Connor now is fighting to repair his reputation © Getty Images
James O'Connor accepts he is at the "crossroads" of his career, saying he wants to play for the Wallabies "but if I keep going the way I am going, that is not going to be available for me".
O'Connor's contract with the Australian Rugby Union was ended on Thursday after one incident too many, ruling him out of international rugby for the remainder of the year. He said he had agreed to the deal in order to "make myself a better person on and off the field".
"I am trying to do the selfless thing by stepping away, and give the team time to fulfil their potential, and give myself time to improve," O'Connor said in an exclusive interview with Rugby Gold. "The goal is to come back and bring a positive energy to the team. I don't want this to be my life. I want to be remembered for my rugby."
O'Connor wants to return to the Wallabies team for the 2014 June international window, with reports suggesting initially that he will do so playing for Western Force for a much reduced annual salary next year after Australia coach Ewen McKenzie said from Rosario that the player could " run and go and do something else or he can stay and fight his way back into the Australian rugby scene".
The Ups and Downs of James O'Connor
"I'm not closing the door on him but he has to obviously fulfil the criteria in terms of playing Super Rugby but also he has to modify behaviour," McKenzie said of O'Connor's test prospects.
O'Connor knows this is his final opportunity to salvage his 44-Test career, telling Rugby Gold "it is going to be a hard few months but it needs to be done".
Australian Federal Police officers escorted O'Connor from Perth Airport recently after a dispute with airline staff, but that was just the final straw in a long list of behavioural indiscretions. ARU chief executive Bill Pulver told Rugby Gold that the union could have prevented the need to cut O'Connor had it acted more strongly earlier.
"I think that's probably a very fair question," Pulver told Rugby Gold when asked if the union could have taken action other than "counselling".
"If you look at any one of these incidents in isolation, none of them as far as I'm aware was life threatening, none involved breaking the law, but when you look at the cumulative impact, they in total represent unacceptable behaviour," Pulver said. "When I look back at James's record, there have been many instances where he has been counselled and sadly his behaviour has not responded in the way we felt appropriate."
O'Connor accepts now that he must work to change his personality, "but to be honest it is not as easy as I thought it was going to be".
"I have to re-focus myself and get in a good mind-space."
The ARU has cut James O'Connor
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Download ESPN's new UK multisport app, a fresh and powerful new way to follow your favourite UK sports news, scores and video.
Concussion, relegation and the mother of all surprises - it's the Monday Maul.
Huw Richards assesses where Wales are after a mixed Six Nations, with front row seats still very much available for the World Cup
John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year
Craig Dowd warns England, Ireland and Wales they should play to their strengths rather than those of the All Blacks and the Wallabies