Wallabies silly to ignore O'Connor quality
RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP SPOTLIGHT: Former Wallaby Matt Giteau believes the one-time bad boy of Australian rugby James O’Connor deserves his shot at redemption.
Flyhalf Bernard Foley has welcomed James O’Connor’s bid to break back into the Wallabies squad, while former Test pivot Matt Giteau says it will be “a waste” if Australian rugby’s former golden boy doesn’t get another opportunity at international level.
O’Connor is reportedly on the verge of signing a long-term deal with the Queensland Reds, which could see him return to the Wallabies squad as soon as this week after departing English club Sale
On Wednesday, O’Connor trained with other Australian Rugby Championship squad aspirants in Brisbane, but had yet to sign a contract with Rugby Australia and the Reds.
“James has come back today [Wednesday] and already he’s shown he’s a quality player and he’s got that intent and desire to come back and play for the Wallabies and that’s only a good thing,” Foley said.
“It builds the competition and competitiveness around the team and selection and each person driving each other to be a better player.”
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O’Connor, who turns 29 on Friday, was the second youngest Wallaby when he made his debut for Australia at 18 in 2008.
He started Tests at fullback, wing and flyhalf and was also used in the centres, before his international career was cut short in 2013, after 44 Tests, after a series of off-field incidents.
O’Connor returned to Australia with the Reds in 2015 to play at the World Cup that year, but he was overlooked and returned to Europe.
Giteau played with O’Connor at Toulon and believes it will be “silly” to leave the utility back out of World Cup calculations, with the tournament in Japan later this year.
“The ability he’s got to cover so many positions and to cover them at a world-class level, it would be silly not to at least consider him for that squad,” Giteau told Players Voice.
“It would be a waste if he didn’t get another opportunity – for him and Australian rugby.”
Giteau admits O’Connor “rated himself” early in his career but remains convinced the once prodigious talent has matured and deserves his shot at redemption.
“He definitely rubbed some people up the wrong way, and got into some dramas, and for a lot of Australians that’s the last image of him,” Giteau said.
“He now understands how much he enjoyed playing for Australia, and how much he has missed not playing for his country having been given such an opportunity at such a young age.
“When something is taken away from you, you realise how much you miss it.
“He’s at a place now where he understands what he did wrong.
“The only way we can learn is from our mistakes and that’s how we get better. He’s developed a lot as a person – more team-oriented, more level as a guy.”