Australian Rugby
James O'Connor offside with team-mates
ESPNscrum Staff
September 19, 2013
James O'Connor takes a breath, Australia v Argentina, The Rugby Championship, Patersons Stadium, Perth, September 14, 2013
James O'Connor appears to be staring at a bleak future in Australian rugby © Getty Images

Wallabies captain James Horwill says James O'Connor has let the team down at a "critical moment" for Australian rugby, while former skipper Nathan Sharpe says team-mates disappointed by the winger's behaviour for "a long time" must now drive the punishment.

Sharpe said reports of O'Connor being barred from taking an international flight on Sunday because he was considered by airport and airline staff to have been intoxicated, and being escorted from Perth Airport by Australian Federal Police officers, fitted a long-established pattern of misbehaviour.

"It's very disappointing, because those sort of issues had been flagged previously," Sharpe told Rugby Gold.

"I am all for accepting a person makes a mistake here or there, but it's just been too consistent, and that's probably something James has to look at. At the end of the day, it's not all about what he does on the field. It is about how he respects his teammates."

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.

Sharpe captained O'Connor at Western Force and played alongside him at Wallabies level for several years, and he was on the Test coaching staff when the 4am incident at a Melbourne fast-food restaurant- and others - infuriated the players. He told Rugby Gold that O'Connor's team-mates were upset with the winger. "I don't know if it will be said publicly but I know having been alongside most of those guys, they were disappointed a long time ago. And at the end of the day, he's in a pretty precarious position … I think the playing group need to stand up and decide what is best for the team, and make a decision with the coaching staff, and then follow through with it. They have to act for the best interests of the team, and let it be known what will be tolerated and what won't be tolerated. They need to come up with the course of action."

Horwill, meanwhile, said on Fox Sports' Rugby HQ on Thursday that Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie had made it clear from the outset what he expected of players, saying "the team has got strong values that we want to uphold as being Wallabies and being representatives of your country".

"It's a privilege to wear this jersey and I know you are speaking about it all the time - you're a Wallaby all the time not just when you're in camp," he said. "So I think that's important to understand from a team's perspective and I think everyone in the group understands that. "We do have a code of conduct … that goes right down from everything between what gear you're wearing to training to what you do off the field, away from training, what your expectations are of the players around the place."

Horwill said that O'Connor couldn't have been involved in an off-field at a worse time, with the Wallabies about to play eight consecutive matches away from home having won just one of four Tests under McKenzie, and two from seven Tests this year.

"We're embarking on a pretty critical moment of Australian rugby, you know a two-week tour of South Africa and Argentina, and it is a big, big moment for this team," he said. "And I guess the fact that we're sitting down talking about an off-field incident, no matter who it is, is disappointing."

Sharpe said the incident was terrible for a team trying to build a respectable set of results.

"I think definitely there's disillusionment within the team, because aside from the fact they're in a hard period where the boys are trying their guts out, they're trying to get the wins on the board that everyone wants from them, it's causing distractions outside of what they're doing anyway," he said on Rugby HQ. "It adds to the furnace and the pressure that really the team doesn't need right now."

Australian Rugby Union integrity unit chief boss Phil Thomson will interview O'Connor on Friday, after he compiled facts on Friday from the Australian Federal Police and Air Asia. O'Connor is reported already to have denied to team manager Bob Egerton in an initial inquiry that he was drunk at the airport, saying he was involved only in a heated argument about seating arrangement on the flight, but eye witnesses have said the player struggled to stand up.

The ARU is expected to announce the findings of its investigation before the Wallabies fly out on Monday for The Rugby Championship Tests in South Africa and Argentina.

"Look I think there'll be [some sanction], depending on what happens and depending on where the ARU sit and whether it's dealt with outside of that," Horwill said of prospective internal team punishment. "And we'll have to see where it sits after that, and if it needs to be the team will have its own set of rules and own set of where we see it should go down. I think we've got to wait and see what the ARU do and where they take it, and then we'll be able to judge where we sit after that."

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