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James O'Connor wanted to escape 'bubble'
ESPN Staff
October 30, 2013

Last orders for O'Connor

An exile with the exiles © Getty Images
  • It could be the starting point for a poor joke. A Kiwi, a Lion and a Wallaby walk into a bar. Except this one is called the Last Saloon, otherwise known as the Aviva Premiership.

    The Lion, Gavin Henson, is doing okay at Bath after a rough cider-fuelled start. He's not yet a world-beater but he's a good squad player, he's finding his feet.

    The Kiwi-born English international Dylan Hartley kept his Northampton Saints captaincy after the incident at the end of last season and despite an unfortunate injury, he should be on the bench for England on Saturday.

    And then there's the Wallaby. Fiercely talented but James O'Connor finds it too easy to stray from what is expected from a top level international.

    Click here for the full article

James O'Connor is adamant his decision to join London Irish is the right move for his life and sporting future, even if it delays a return to the Wallabies, saying he signed with the Exile for the remainder of the Premiership season because he wanted to escape the "bubble" in Australia and become his own man.

The deal, which ends in May, will make it difficult for O'Connor to earn a Wallabies recall next year, with Australia coach Ewen McKenzie vowing to consider only players in Super Rugby. O'Connor may conceivably return to Australia after his English contract expires, to play up to six matches in Super Rugby, but he insists he hasn't thought about it. O'Connor says he has a long-term focus on Rugby World Cup 2015 and needs to focus on personal development first, and he believes the "family-oriented" English club offers the perfect environment.

"At the moment, I'm here until May and well decide what happens after that," O'Connor said. " See how I'm enjoying it and go from there. I've only been made aware of [McKenzie's selection policy] recently. I'm not aware of the rules. Right now the best decision has been to come over here. I feel really good about it already. This is something I need to do."

O'Connor was released from the remainder of his 2013 contract with the Australian Rugby Union, and told he would not be offered a lucrative top-up contract for 2014, after repeated disciplinary breaches.

James O'Connor concedes he has made 'lots of mistakes'
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O'Connor, who already has 44 international caps, said he felt like he'd "been in a bit of a bubble in the last six years".

"It's been an amazing ride and every opportunity to pull on that gold jersey has been awesome," he said. "But I've been protected quite a lot. I've made mistakes and haven't dealt with them in the way I'd like to. This opportunity gives me the opportunity to become my own man and work on that. It's a good environment to do so."

O'Connor will attend the opening match of Australia's European Tour against England at Twickenham on Saturday before playing fullback for his new club against Northampton on Sunday.

His signing is a significant coup for Irish, and coach Brian Smith said O'Connor deserved a second chance. "We don't want him looking over his shoulder," Smith said. "This is an opportunity to turn over a new leaf and crack on."

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