JAMES O’CONNOR HAS been released from his Australia contract with immediate effect after a series of off-field incidents, capping a dramatic fall from grace.
The 23-year-old was dumped from the Australian team last month after he was prevented from taking a flight because he was allegedly drunk, hours after Australia beat Argentina in a Rugby Championship match.
It was the last straw for the Australian Rugby Union, which announced “an early release from his national contract for 2013 and (we) will not offer him a national contract for 2014″.
“We appreciate James’s contribution to Australian rugby and his unique skill and flair when playing, but have come to this decision after looking into a number of incidents in recent years that are inconsistent with the values of our game,” ARU chief executive Bill Pulver said.
We pride ourselves on living the values of rugby — passion, integrity, discipline, respect and teamwork. James has accepted these values need to be consistently upheld on and off the field at all times.
The Perth airport flare-up came barely a month after O’Connor vowed to change his ways in a bid to keep his Wallabies jersey after a series of disciplinary issues.
They included being spotted at a burger bar with fellow wayward teammate Kurtley Beale at 4:00 am three days before the must-win second Test against the British and Irish Lions in June. He also missed the team bus for the third Test.
In 2011 he was suspended after sleeping through the World Cup team announcement following a night out, with former great Nathan Sharpe last month making clear players had been disappointed with his behaviour for “a long time”.
O’Connor, who has played 44 Tests, admitted Thursday he “needs to earn back a lot of respect”.
“As a professional, I am focused on developing as a person and as an athlete and intend to do everything possible to put myself in the best environment to do that,” he told the Sydney Daily Telegraph.
I want to apologise for any issues that I have caused and I want express my respect for my teammates, the Wallabies, and the jumper. There is nothing more important and rewarding to me than representing my country.
O’Connor said he recognised that it was best for both the Wallabies and himself to go “in different directions” in the short term.
“I realise I need to earn back a lot of respect, and that is exactly what I plan to do both on and off the field. I remain focused on earning my place back with the Wallabies and will be looking for the right opportunity to do this.”
His future is unclear after he was offloaded by Super 15 club Melbourne Rebels this season with only Western Force showing any interest in him.
The loss of his ARU contract will reportedly cost O’Connor US$470,000 a year.
“We would consider reviewing our position regarding a national contract for 2015 and beyond if we believe James’ behaviour is consistent with the values associated with being a Wallaby,” said Pulver.
O’Connor will not now be considered for selection for the upcoming Wallabies tour to England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Italy.