Last orders for O'Connor
October 29, 2013
James O'Connor poses in the kit of his latest club ... © 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. For those who saw him joining in the Saints' song after their win over Saracens, he still cares deeply about rugby and Northampton and will be a key part of England's 2015 World Cup charge.
Both have quaffed beverages in the aforementioned Saloon but neither have fallen through the trapdoor of the damned.
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.
In 2010, England A played Australia Barbarians in Perth. Then England backs coach Brian Smith informed his players before the game not to not bother with the small fresh-faced chap on the wing. He wasn't worth the trouble.
O'Connor scored a hat-trick and tore England apart. Smith admitted his mistake to the shell-shocked players after the game.
Three years on and Smith will look over O'Connor as he attempts to find a new edge to his game which he hopes the brutality of the Premiership will offer.
Since that day in Perth, O'Connor has made plenty of headlines but unfortunately for the wrong reasons. Airports, burger bars and Melbourne misdemeanours have all tarnished his promising, box-office name.
Reading won't offer quite the same pitfalls but the vultures and cynics will be circling O'Connor if he puts a foot wrong. All those connected with the club will hope his PR-savvy quotes about change and self-discovery are genuine rather than just ticking the required boxes.
Retribution and self-finding aside, if he keeps his head down, O'Connor will be a great signing for London Irish. Alongside Marland Yarde, Sailosi Tagicakibau, Alex Lewington and Topsy Ojo, O'Connor will add a point of difference to an already exciting bunch of backs.
London Irish haven't been used to seeing stars arrive at Sunbury recently, the last of O'Connor's ilk was probably Mike Catt or Olivier Magne. Instead, they've been more used to seeing them leave. But O'Connor is a coup for Smith.
If he clicks with his new team-mates and lives up to his promise, pre-season suggestions of relegation for Smith's men will seem to be idiotic. One thing for sure, it won't be boring at the Madejski this season.
James O'Connor concedes he has made 'lots of mistakes'
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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