O'Connor makes strong indication he will return home
February 15, 2014
James O'Connor will be relying on Australian franchises to get the chance to play for the Wallabies in the World Cup © Getty Images
James O'Connor has given his strongest indication yet that will return to Australian rugby long-term, saying his Wallabies dreams will "take precedence" over all others.
After only just recently announcing his signing with European heavyweights Toulon, O'Connor confirmed he will meet with Super Rugby franchises in three months to discuss a return to Australia for next year's season in a bid to represent the Wallabies at the 2015 World Cup.
Currently based at London-Irish, O'Connor revealed his new contract with Toulon will start in July and is for six months with a further six-month option. This will allow O'Connor to negotiate with Australian clubs about a return in December or January for the 2015 Super Rugby season.
O'Connor's management have remained in contact with Western Force for 2015, but are hopeful that other franchises will gain interest, but any side would want him to commit to a deal longer than one season.
The problem is O'Connor's desire to be part of the Australian Sevens Olympic team for the 2016 Games, but he indicated his priority is to regain his spot in the Wallabies Cup campaign in England and Wales next year. This can only happen if he has a Super contract.
"I haven't made it a secret that I want to come back for the World Cup," O'Connor told the Daily Telegraph from London. "Sevens is something I've wanted to do since I played in Hong Kong when I was 17, and I'd definitely want to be part of the Olympics.
"I don't know if that can be worked out, but my priority is playing for the Wallabies, that will take precedence."
O'Connor said he made his intentions to return to Australia clear to Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal and coach Bernard Laporte when negotiating with the French giants.
"When I started talking with Mourad and Bernard, I explained exactly what I wanted to do and they were on board with it," O'Connor said. "Bernard could see how passionate I was about getting back and playing in the World Cup, and he could understand that because he has coached in two of them [2003 and 2007].
"So Toulon will give me a bit of leniency to be able to come back for the 2015 Super Rugby season, and then I'll have to earn my way into the Test team. That is my thinking.
"I have been pretty honest with them about being able to come back at the end of pre-season training for the 2015 season, but I don't know exactly where that will be yet."
O'Connor will return to Australia in May after finishing his duties at London Irish and during his time here will hold talks with interested Super sides.
"That would be good timing," O'Connor said. "I have kept in touch with Ewen throughout this whole time, there have been no promises, but it is positive to be able to speak to the head coach while I am over here.
"I have a lot to do if I get a sniff in the Wallabies team, they played really well at the end of the tour last year. If I get the opportunity again, I will be looking to make the most of it."
But as O'Connor learnt before his high profile departure from Australia last year, his future in Australian rugby hinges on Super franchises willingness to sign him. Any team interested in the playmaker would need to be convinced that his off field activities would not divide the side.
McKenzie said earlier this week that he would continue to keep an eye on O'Connor's behaviour, which would determine whether he would be re-considered for the Wallabies. While he left these shores with his reputation in tatters, O'Connor has avoided any off-field issues during his England sojourn and appears to have bonded well with London Irish teammates.
The 23-year-old, who lives with his girlfriend in the affluent suburb of Richmond near the club's training base, says he is enjoying his low-key lifestyle in the football-mad nation.
"I realised I had to get away to refresh myself and refocus, and it has been awesome in that respect, the boys have been very welcoming," he said. "It is a work in progress, I am not saying I have got all the answers.
"I am enjoying my rugby again, I am learning lots on the field because it is a completely different style over here, very set-piece focused, and it has been a good change of scenery for me. The goal has always been to get back and try to play for the Wallabies again."
And the utility back believes his time in England and coming experience in the Heineken Cup-winning change-room of Toulon will add valuable strings to his bow. O'Connor will be competing for a starting spot at Toulon against the premier backline names in rugby; Jonny Wilkinson, Leigh Halfpenny, Matt Giteau, Bryan Habana, Frederick Michalak, Drew Mitchell and Mathieu Bastareaud.
"If I can take my game to the next level it can make a big difference," O'Connor said. "Toulon have a winning environment, they're winners, I hope that can rub off. The [Aviva] Premiership and Heineken Cup are a lot closer to Test level standard, the collisions are a lot harder.
"I have had six years of Super Rugby, and what I've learned in the first four months here is unbelievable, I look at the game in different ways. Hopefully I can bring these habits back with me."
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