Sale Sharks agreed to release James O’Connor from his contract at the club on Tuesday, in order for the versatile back to return to Australia and push for inclusion in the Wallaby squad for the upcoming Rugby World Cup.
O’Connor’s previous time in Australia had been marred by off-field controversies, the last of which resulted in the ARU ending its contractual agreement with the player, who shortly thereafter left the Melbourne Rebels and moved to Europe.
He had stints at London Irish and Toulon, as well as a season with the Reds, before agreeing to join Sale in 2017, a club which has become infamous for its willingness to take gambles on players with chequered pasts.
Danny Cipriani, Marlon Yarde and Denny Solomona have all searched for redemption in the north-west and it seems as if Sale’s correctional ways will once again be put to the test as O’Connor leaves the club for a new challenge.
According to The Sydney Morning Herald, O’Connor’s contract with the Reds has been held up by the side’s desire to include extra behavioural clauses in the agreement.
With the franchise having been hurt by off-field incidents with Karmichael Hunt and James Slipper in the past, not to mention O’Connor’s own indiscretions at the Rebels and more recently in Europe, it seems they are seeking to cover themselves should the back’s return to Australia not go as planned.
O’Connor, 28, has 44 caps for the Wallabies, although the last of them came in 2013, with the playmaker having been in the international wilderness since then. His earlier move to the Reds was in order to try and make the national team for the 2015 Rugby World Cup, something which didn’t happen, and O’Connor will be hoping that he has more success this time around.
Following Israel Folau’s sacking by the ARU, there is potentially a hole in the Wallaby line-up at 15. If Dane Haylett-Petty moves over to fill it, that opens up space on the wing, whilst a similar move for Kurtley Beale would free up the 12 jersey.
Whatever way Michael Cheika opts to go over the next few months, O’Connor’s ability to play all three back three positions and both centre spots puts him in a strong place to be the kind of versatile utility back that are so coveted in the 31-man Rugby World Cup squads.
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