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Tarnished James O'Connor winging his way to Europe

London Irish are being linked with the young back who lost out on a central contract in Australia last month.

Image: Rob Griffith/AP/Press Association Images

WALLABY UTILITY BACK James O’Connor last night said he plans to play in Europe and not take up a Super Rugby contract with Perth-based Western Force.

O’Connor, one of the sport’s most recognisable faces, was dropped from the national team in September and had his contract torn up by the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) earlier this month for repeated discipline breaches.

These culminated in the player being preventing from taking a flight because he was allegedly drunk, hours after Australia beat Argentina in a Rugby Championship match in Perth.

Despite Wallaby coach Ewen McKenzie saying he was willing to help O’Connor rehabilitate his career and Western Force offering him a lifeline when no other clubs were interested, the 23-year-old has opted to move overseas.

“We have been informed by James directly that he intends to continue his playing career in Europe for the time being,” RugbyWA chief Mark Sinderberry said in a statement.

“The Western Force has laid strong foundations of standards and values — particularly around earning respect — and our discussions with James included on-and off-field programmes that we believed could assist him in becoming the player he aspires to be and to develop himself as a person.

“James has made the decision that is right for him at this point in his playing career and the club remains open to recommencing these discussions again in the future if James wishes to return to Australian rugby.”

O’Connor, who has played 44 Tests, admitted this month that he “needs to earn back a lot of respect”. He revealed yesterday that he was in talks with several English clubs about a move “for a few months”, with London Irish reportedly his most likely destination, but was eyeing a return to Western Force in the future.

“I am in final discussions with several clubs and will announce the new partnership in coming days,” he told reporters.

“I believe the move, for a few months, will be beneficial for me to develop in a different environment and help me be the best rugby player and person that I can be.”

O’Connor said his management was continuing discussions with the Western Force about a future deal.

“Both (coach) Michael Foley and (chief executive) Mark Sinderberry have been great supporters of mine and I greatly appreciate it,” he said.

“The past few weeks have given me an opportunity to look at all aspects of my life both professionally and personally,” he said.

“I want to give myself every opportunity to get back into the Wallabies side and to represent Australia in the 2015 World Cup.”

- © AFP, 2013

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