James O'Connor 'positive, trained well, worked hard' at Toulon - Matt Giteau
Sam Bruce
October 14, 2015
James O'Connor © Getty Images

If James O'Connor ever wants to return to Australian rugby and reignite his Test career - again - an extended stint at Toulon may just be the best place for him.

O'Connor was on Tuesday granted an early release from his Queensland Reds contract for "personal issues", with the wayward 25-year-old believed to have been struggling with the Australian media spotlight. That is a tough excuse to swallow for many Australian rugby fans, with O'Connor having posted videos of himself during the Rugby World Cup in which he rates the Wallabies' hopes. He now appears destined to return to France, with Toulon a likely destination - a claim the club's enigmatic owner, Mourad Boudjellal, has made throughout O'Connor's time at the Reds.

O'Connor's departure will likely be a case of "good riddance to bad rubbish" for many Australian supporters, but if O'Connor ever wants to wear the green and gold again, Toulon's Wallabies, Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell, may prove to influential figures.

"He was positive, he trained well, he worked hard, he added a lot to the group," Giteau said when asked about O'Connor's six-month stint with Toulon last year. "I think he enjoyed it and, yeah, he was really good for us."

Matt Giteau, James O'Connor and Drew Mitchell played together in Toulon © Matt Giteau/Instagram

Giteau's comments seem to suggest that O'Connor was settled in France, while another of the Wallabies' current Toulon connections, Drew Mitchell, also afforded his former team-mate plenty of praise back in 2014.

"Since coming here, I have honestly been really impressed with the guy," Mitchell told News Corporation last year. "He's applying himself in training, in the gym and on the field. He's getting to know the boys, he's getting to know the French guys and trying to learn the language. He obviously came here with the intentions of going back to Australia but he still came and dived into the culture, and the team environment. It would have been easy for him to say I'm here for six months and speak English and stay comfortable."

Giteau and Mitchell both originally left Australian rugby on a bit of downer themselves. Giteau, of course, departed on bitter terms having fallen out with then-Wallabies coach Robbie Deans after missing Australia's 2011 World Cup squad. Mitchell, meanwhile, had endured a difficult Super Rugby season under none other than then-Waratahs coach Michael Cheika. But both have now returned to the Test fold as key players in Australia's Rugby World Cup charge, with Giteau to notch his 100th Test cap on Sunday.

O'Connor, for now, can only dream about a redemption story similar to that of Giteau and Mitchell, and with only 45 Test caps, the "Justin Bieber of Australian rugby" as described by former Wallabies full-back Greg Martin doesn't fulfil the Australian Rugby Union's 60-Test or seven years' service criteria for overseas eligibility.

O'Connor admitted upon joining the Reds at the start of the year that he was on his "last chance" in Australia, perhaps suggesting he now knows that his time Down Under is done.

But should circumstances change, and O'Connor achieves a level of maturity beyond that of a teenager, then one of the most naturally gifted players of the past decade may not be lost to Australian rugby. For now, though, Toulon looks to be the perfect place for him; particularly if he listens to Giteau and Mitchell.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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