Report: James O'Connor's shock request to leave Australia for Super Rugby Aotearoa
The Herald reports O’Connor, who was Australia’s starting first-five in his three test appearances this year, is eager to play in “the world’s toughest domestic competition” and “regularly test himself against the best”.
The 55-test Wallaby reportedly met with Rennie on Friday to discuss a potential release from his contract with the Reds to play in New Zealand next year.
While he doesn’t meet the 60-cap and seven-year service threshold required of overseas-based Australian players to play for the Wallabies, Rugby Australia [RA] last year announced two players based abroad who don’t meet those requirements can be selected for test rugby.
There is no guarantee, though, that RA will agree to release the 30-year-old from his deal with the Reds in what would be a significant blow to the Queensland franchise.
Having returned from English club Sale following a second stint in the Premiership last year, O’Connor proved to be an integral figure in a youthful Reds side that finished runners-up in Super Rugby AU behind the Brumbies.
With vast experience and plenty of talent as a playmaker from either first or second-five, O’Connor’s departure from Brad Thorn’s squad would put a hefty dent in their ambitions to go one place better in 2021.
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As for the Chiefs, the acquisition of O’Connor would go some way to improving their efforts in 2020, when they finished last in Super Rugby Aotearoa with zero wins from eight matches.
The Herald reports O’Connor asked multiple All Blacks about the idea of playing in Super Rugby Aotearoa, and it seems the Chiefs have been picked out as his franchise of choice.
Losing Aaron Cruden to the Top League in Japan leaves the Hamilton side with Maori All Blacks youngster Kaleb Trask and former Blues and Highlanders pivot Bryn Gatland as their playmakers for next year.
All Blacks star Damian McKenzie is also capable of covering first-five, but is likely to remain at fullback, leaving O’Connor as a prime candidate to fill the void of experience Cruden left in his exit to the Kobelco Steelers.
According to the Herald, New Zealand Rugby have granted the Chiefs an extension to finalise their squad as they try to get the deal across the line.
Should that happen, it would add to the growing international flavour in Super Rugby Aotearoa next year.
The Highlanders have made the biggest splash in the international player market, bringing Japanese World Cup star Kazuki Himeno, three-test Wallabies prop Jermaine Ainsley and two-test Tongan midfielder Fetuli Paea to Dunedin.
The Chiefs, however, have no foreign talent on their books, which means O’Connor will be able to slot into their squad should negotiations work in his favour.
Earlier this year, four-test England midfielder Joe Marchant joined the Blues on a season-long loan and featured frequently throughout the year, as did South African wing Kobus van Wyk for the Hurricanes.
New Zealand Super Rugby squads are limited to a maximum of three foreign players, with one of those spots dedicated to Pacific Island players.
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