Rugby Championship

Time running out for O'Connor

2015-07-03 13:09
James O'Connor (AFP)

Sydney - In October 2010, James O'Connor scythed through the tackles of Mils Muliaina, Keven Mealamu and Richie McCaw to score a last-minute try which he nervelessly converted to give Australia a first win over the All Blacks in 11 Tests.

O'Connor was just 20 and with Quade Cooper and Kurtley Beale formed a trio of young, confident, exciting backs who offered Australia hope of a return to the days around the turn of the century when they had the best team in the world.

A once-in-a-generation talent who could play across the backline, O'Connor's skill-set and looks - he was dubbed "Bieber" after the Canadian pop singer - promised to make him a genuine giant of the global game.

On Thursday, however, O'Connor was deemed unworthy of a place in Michael Cheika's 40-man training squad for the Rugby Championship, his hopes of going to a second World Cup later this year all but gone.

"His fitness has been an issue over the whole season and in the two weeks of the recent camp he could not participate in all training," Cheika told reporters in Brisbane.

"James will go back to the Reds and try to get in shape for a possible chance in next month's squad for the All Blacks."

While knee and groin injuries, as well as playing for the dysfunctional Reds, have undoubtedly hindered his quest for a 45th Test cap, O'Connor's off-field antics have also played a part in the decline of a career that once promised so much.

If O'Connor was a "brand", as he famously said in 2011, the company board would have to be considering a product re-launch under a new name.

A year after his Hong Kong exploits, O'Connor missed the opening match of the 2011 World Cup because of a ban landed on him after he slept through the squad unveiling at Sydney airport.

It was just the first of a series of mis-steps that led to his banishment from Australian rugby in 2013 after a drunken row with police at another airport, in Perth.

Even after his return home this year in a bid to resurrect his test career, a public halftime spat with Reds team mate Adam Thomson handed more fuel to the many critics of his attitude.

As a coach who will lead the Wallabies into the Rugby Championship ranked a once unthinkable sixth in the world, Cheika cannot afford to discard proven test players lightly.

He has kept faith with Beale and Cooper despite their well-documented problems and O'Connor now has a few weeks to present a compelling rugby case for the reunification of the "Three Amigos" in Wallabies gold.


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