McKenzie wants to help rehabilitate O'Connor
October 14, 2013
James O'Connor has still not signed on with a Super Rugby side for next season © Getty Images
Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie says he's keen to play a role in rehabilitating fallen star James O'Connor. McKenzie revealed he's maintained contact with the 23-year-old who had his contract torn up by the ARU this month for discipline breaches, the final straw coming when he was denied boarding for a flight to Bali after he'd allegedly been drinking.
O'Connor is currently taking time out with his family on the Gold Coast as he maps out the future direction for his career. The Perth-based Western Force remain favourites to sign the talented utility back, but on a significantly reduced salary now his ARU top-up has been taken away. If he's after an alternative, time is now against O'Connor in terms of finding an overseas rugby union deal or even an NRL club.
Western Force coach Michael Foley is confident the franchise's strong culture would help O'Connor turn his career - and life - around.
"It needs to me made really clear to everybody that we're not bringing in James and merely hoping things work out," Foley said. "There's a plan to get the best out of him both on and off the field. We're very keen to work towards the humility side of things and also the generosity of spirit that James displays in some of the other areas of his life, particularly with some of the charities he's involved in. If we can draw on that and create a program which allows him to spend time in that frame of mind, you start to move people towards more positive ways of seeing themselves. But whether James joins us or not, it's yet to be seen."
While ruled out for the rest of this year, O'Connor will be able to return to the Wallabies next year, if still playing in Australia, but will get only match payments if selected. McKenzie said he was interested in helping O'Connor and urged the Test star to stay in touch.
"We've had some contact. He's obviously working on his end of things," McKenzie said ahead of the Wallabies' Test against the All Blacks in Dunedin this weekend. "I'll continue to have contact but contact's a two-way thing. We've been concentrating on playing footy but I spoke to him from Argentina. I'm interested in improving him as a person so I'm happy to help in that process."
Captain James Horwill said the Wallabies had adopted a team-first mentality over O'Connor's situation as it couldn't afford to be distracted by off-field issues. Horwill said O'Connor needed to sort things out for himself, but also made it clear the Wallabies wouldn't be abandoning him.
"I think the guys have always been available for James if he needs it," Horwill said. "He's a guy who needs to make the decisions for himself and not concern himself with other guys. No one can make the decision for him. He needs to find out what's important to him and work from there. He needs to work out what he wants on and off the field and the guys are always here if he wants to talk."