Wallabies winger James O’Connor was released from the last three months of his Australian Rugby Union contract two weeks after being suspended indefinitely for failing to meet the national team’s behavioral standards.
O’Connor, 23, won’t be offered a national contract next year, the governing body said today. He’ll still be able to sign with a Super Rugby team and would be eligible for Wallabies selection next year should he stay in Australia.
“We are hopeful that James will stay in Australian rugby and play in next year’s Super Rugby competition and that he sees this as an opportunity to refocus his attitude and invest in all aspects of his professional rugby career,” ARU Chief Executive Officer Bill Pulver said in an e-mailed statement.
The cancellation of his ARU contract, which gives national team players top-up payments to their Super Rugby salaries, follows an ARU investigation into a Sept. 15 incident at Perth International Airport in which O’Connor was barred from a flight.
The release, which the ARU said was by mutual agreement, is effective immediately, meaning O’Connor won’t be considered for the Wallabies’ November tour to England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Italy, the ARU said.
“We would consider reviewing our position regarding a national contract for 2015 and beyond if we believe James’s behavior is consistent with the values associated with being a Wallaby,” Pulver added.
The airport incident, which followed Australia’s Rugby Championship win against Argentina the previous day in Perth, came two weeks after O’Connor pledged to improve his behavior following a series of disciplinary issues.
In 2011, he was suspended for a Test match for sleeping through a World Cup squad announcement and was reprimanded in June after being photographed in a fast-food restaurant at 4 a.m. three days before the second Test against the British and Irish Lions. A week later he missed the team bus for a training session in the leadup to the final game against the Lions.
O’Connor, who made his Australia debut in 2008 at age 18 and has played 44 Tests, said in a statement that he wanted to apologize for “any issues that I have caused,” adding that he needed to “earn back a lot of respect.”
“I recognize that given my actions and the circumstances it is best for the team and myself to go in different directions in the short term,” O’Connor was cited as saying by Sydney’s Daily Telegraph. “I remain focused on earning my place back with the Wallabies and will be looking for the right opportunity to do this.”
The Perth-based Western Force, with whom O’Connor has been in talks over a Super Rugby contract after being released by the Melbourne Rebels in July, today advised him to take time away from the sport to consider his options.
“At this point we believe it’s in James’s best interests to take time and reflect on what’s important to him and what he really wants,” RugbyWA CEO Mark Sinderberry said in a statement. “If that is being a part of this club and making a positive contribution to our club culture, then we’d be open to the prospect of continuing those discussions.”
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