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'It was ****ed' - The bus seizures that changed James O'Connor

By Ian Cameron
Clermont's centre Aurelien rougerie (L) tackles Toulon's fullback James O'Connor during the French Top 14 rugby union final match Clermont vs Toulon, on June 4, 2017 at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis (AFP PHOTO / CHRISTOPHE SIMON via Getty Images)

Wallabies flyhalf James O’Connor has revisited the Toulon bus incident that acted as the first of a series of ‘wake-up calls’ for the playmaker who was going off the rails.

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It was reported that O’Connor – then just 26 – had suffered a heart attack on the way back from a game against Oyonnax.

In fact the seizure was one of two that happened in short succession on boozy Toulon bus trips back from Top 14 clashes, with the Australian’s loose lifestyle catching up with him. Luckily for O’Connor, it wasn’t a cardiac arrest, but rather a case of extreme exhaustion thanks to a party lifestyle and playing professional rugby.

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James O’Connor is brilliantly open about his life & career | RugbyPass Offload | Episode 36
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James O’Connor is brilliantly open about his life & career | RugbyPass Offload | Episode 36

A diet of alcohol, prescription and recreational drug abuse, all while playing regularly for the galacticos Toulon, ultimately took their toll on the Queenslander.

“I was in a pretty dark place. I was doing everything. I was just playing around, burning the candle at both ends,” O’Connor told the RugbyPass Offload podcast.

“I was still playing rugby but I was out often and a lot. I wasn’t sleeping much because we were on road trips. Flying there, flying to this country.

“I had a little head knock after playing – maybe La Rochelle or something – then on the team bus we just had it. It was a good win away and we just got into it.

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“I ended up having a seizure on the bus. It was hectic. I can’t remember so it wasn’t hectic for me, but it was pretty hectic after. I remember Dylan Armitage being pretty traumatized after. He was like ‘Bro, I thought you had died.’ It was ****ed.

“That was the first wake-up call and I was right, I need to rein it in a bit. It was just ‘a bit’ at that stage.”

O’Connor would go on to have another seizure just a few weeks later.

“It happened again,” said O’Connor. “I got tested and they did a full examination. They were like why is this happening? Tested for epilepsy and everything. I was just burned out.

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“The first one was a mixture of drinking a lot, taking a lot, the knock. The second time I was just so fatigued. I burned the candle at both ends and it just happened.”

Fellow Toulon teammate Mamuka Gorgodze came to his aid the second time.

“He put me down on the ground. He’s a good man. A tough man. He’s been to war and he’d seen things that we hadn’t.”

Something the Georgian international told O’Connor still stick with him.

“One of the biggest compliments I ever had was from him. We were at his place having a drink. It was probably only two or three of us left. He said: ‘You know what, when I first met you, with your shirts, I thought you like one of those sissy boys.’

“I was like ‘Okay bro’.

“Then he was like ‘Now I see that you are good man’. I was like awesome.”

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