'If I was a betting man I would be expecting to be waving goodbye to James shortly'
Sale boss Steve Diamond believes Australia will get a “little pearl” with the imminent Test level return of James O’Connor ahead of the World Cup in Japan.
A deal has yet to be rubber-stamped, but Diamond has revealed to RugbyPass that he will not stand in O’Connor’s way in forcing his way back into the Wallaby reckoning – even though the ex-Toulon and London Irish centre has a year of his contract still to run with the Gallagher Premiership club.
It is expected that O’Connor will be offered a contract by Rugby Australia that would allow him to be included in Michael Cheika’s World Cup plans.
This is after the Wallaby coaches were sent statistics that proved how influential the 28-year-old has been in England since he arrived from Toulon following yet another controversial moment in his career when he was fined for cocaine use.
O’Connor burst onto the international scene in 2008 but could not avoid off-the-field problems. That saw him head to Europe and he finally found a home from home at Sale in 2017.
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Despite O’Connor’s reputation, Diamond was willing to give the 44-cap player another chance. After meeting the player at a Heathrow hotel, he set out the ground rules which the player has not broken during his time in Manchester.
O’Connor’s proposed move back to Australia has been triggered by the appointment of Scott Johnson as Rugby Australia’s director of rugby. He has been impressed by the way O’Connor has turned his playing career and personal life around.
O’Connor is currently in Australia and Diamond said: “If I was a betting man I would be expecting to be waving goodbye to James shortly. James would be first to say he didn’t handle fame and fortune in the best way, but he is now 28 years old and a more accomplished player with silky skills and a brilliant ability to assist with line breaks and hits.
“I have let the Australian coaches look at our statistics for him this season and they show he is a fantastic defensive player and also great attacking threat. Whoever gets him is getting a little pearl.
“James could go back and become a Rugby Australia contracted player and they will then decide if he joins one of the Super Rugby teams or is part of the Sevens for the Olympic Games next year. That is what I’m assuming because at this moment the RA has not approached us.
“While it’s frustrating to lose a player we have helped recapture his best form, it is every player’s desire to play at a World Cup and I would never block anyone’s opportunity to do that.
“James knows that he has been fantastic for us and I wish him all the best wherever he goes. He would go with our blessing – we have got Cameron Redpath, who has been playing for England Under-20s and is a very good player.”
Sale are in the habit of rehabilitating high profile players with controversial careers. The club first helped Danny Cipriani regain lost ground with England and it now appears they have relaunched O’Connor back onto the Test stage.
“We also had Andy Powell,” added Diamond, referencing the wayward former Wales back row. “Anyone with any common sense will look at what happens to players who come to Sale.
“Marland Yarde was a disaster at Harlequins and he’s now fighting fit and raring to go. I don’t have to stand on the roof shouting we look after players – they do that themselves.
“James has been brilliant from day one. We met at Heathrow and I told him to have a think about it. He rang a couple of days later and said he would give it a crack. I told him to remember the parameters and if he didn’t overstep the mark then everything would be great. We never had a bad word.
“It wouldn’t be bad for a little northern club to have Tom Curry (England), Faf de Klerk (South Africa) and James O’Connor (Australia) playing at the World Cup in Japan.”
WATCH: Part one of the two-part RugbyPass documentary on what fans can expect in Japan at this year’s World Cup
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