Super Rugby
James O'Connor: 'I understand rugby better now'
December 28, 2014
Toulon's James O'Connor tries to make some yards, Racing Metro v Toulon,  Top 14, Colombes. August 30, 2014
James O'Connor says he has "really developed" his game with Toulon, "especially in attack" © Getty Images

Former Wallabies problem child James O'Connor says he has grown up and has become a better rugby player in his stint away from Australia.

O'Connor will leave French Top 14 champions Toulon after their Top 14 clash with Stade Francais in Paris on Sunday to join Queensland Reds in a bid to regain Wallabies selection for the 2015 Rugby World Cup. He does so having admitted that he has things to prove in Australia after leaving under a cloud in late 2013, when the Australian Rugby Union ripped up his contract after an incident at Perth Airport. O'Connor was not offered a new contract by Melbourne Rebels, and he left with an unenviable reputation as a disruptive influence. Then Australia coach Ewen McKenzie declared that O'Connor would have to "modify [his] behaviour" if he wanted to resurrect his international career.

"I didn't leave on good terms," O'Connor said on Saturday. "I've got things to prove to my country."

O'Connor has since played for London Irish in England and Toulon in France without incident, and Australian team-mates at Toulon have spoken highly of him as a more mature person and player. "I've picked up so many things from my time here," O'Connor said. "I've learnt a great deal from this team. Playing with top players gives you confidence. There's a real culture of winning here, I'm sure the boys are going to win the Top 14 and the European Champions Cup."

Explaining his decision to return home, O'Connor said he was "going back to Australia in the hope of fulfilling a dream: to play in the World Cup".

"I will do everything to earn my selection, first of all in the Super 15, then with the national team," he said.

O'Connor has played 10 times for Toulon, scoring four tries among a total of 59 points, and he said of his time in the Top 14: "I've grown up. I've really developed my game, especially in attack, in learning how to make good decisions. I understand rugby better now."

He leaves Toulon with fond memories of his half year in France.

"I love the way of life in France, the culture and their style of living suits me perfectly. I reckon it's the ideal place for me to better express myself both on and off the pitch."


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