Aussies keep eye on O'Connor's behaviour
February 12, 2014
James O'Connor had a hard 2013 with several incidents off the field resulting in his move to England © Getty Images
Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie will undertake background checks on James O'Connor's behaviour off the field in Europe before he considers making him part of his plans for the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
The pair have been regularly talking over recent months, with McKenzie encouraging O'Connor to lock down a Super Rugby contract for next year as quickly as possible.
McKenzie and ARU chief executive Bill Pulver have made it clear that O'Connor will be welcomed back, but with no guarantees of resurrecting his international career unless form and off-field discipline are up to scratch.
O'Connor had developed a reputation as a problem child and clashed with team-mates over his attitude before departing for a stint overseas with London Irish and then Toulon. However, he has signalled his intentions to find a Super Rugby club for next season.
McKenzie said he's heard nothing to suggest O'Connor has been anything but professional during his time away, but will make enquiries when the time is right. "Footballing wise he's a good footballer... the issue was what he was doing away from football," he said. "I haven't had as much visibility obviously he's over there, but I haven't seen anything untoward and I know people over there.I'll work all that out. If it becomes relevant I'll find that out.
"We are trying to invest in people for the right reasons for the team and the team deserves to have the best footballers but also the best people. That's across the board, not just him."
McKenzie said the ball was in O'Connor's court as to negotiations with Super Rugby franchises, but would like to see him get something secured in the coming weeks. "Now is the time to be having chats because you know what players are coming off contract and you can plan your squad around it and work from there. He's got to break bread with one of the Super teams ... he knows how I'm thinking about it from an eligibility perspective (for Wallabies).
"I don't think anyone has their name pencilled in [for the World Cup]. There's 14 Tests to happen this year before we worry about anyone who is playing in 2015."
The Western Force were the only team interested in O'Connor before he made his shock exit from Australia, but Pulver expects him to be in demand. "I believe there are some discussions going on. We'd love to have him back. I think he appears pretty committed to coming back and forcing his way back into the Wallabies team and I'm delighted with that.
"I don't want to speak on behalf [of franchises] but he's a good player. And a player like that with the right attitude is a wonderful asset inside a Super Rugby franchise ... I would have thought there'd be people interested in snapping him up."
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