James O’Connor faces an uncertain international future after he was stood down from the Australia squad for the final two games of the Rugby Championship due to an incident at Perth Airport on Sunday.
O’Connor failed to meet Ewan McKenzie’s off-field standards when he had to be ejected from the airport terminal. It was alleged by the Australian Federal Police that the versatile back was “intoxicated” and therefore refused entry to his flight.
McKenzie explained the decision via ESPN.co.uk:
The reality is that representing your country is the ultimate honour but also a week-to-week proposition.
James and I had a long conversation around those expectations before the tournament commenced. To be selected, players must consistently do the right things on and off the field.
As a result, and separate to the outcomes of the current investigation, James will not be joining us in Sydney tomorrow. We must put the team first without any distractions hindering them during a really tough two-game tour.
The news comes at a vital time in the Championship, not only for Australia but for their next opponents South Africa, whom they meet in Cape Town on Sept. 28.
Victory for the Wallabies—currently two points above Argentina—would boost their fight to avoid finishing bottom in the tournament. They play the Pumas in their final fixture.
South Africa still have a very real hope of winning this year’s Championship, currently four points adrift of New Zealand, whom they face at home in a potentially decisive encounter.
First the Springboks must ensure they defeat Australia, ideally with a bonus point. The decision to omit O’Connor from the squad only enhances South Africa’s chances.
Capable of playing at fly-half, fullback or on the wing, the 23-year-old offered versatility to McKenzie’s attacking options. Already a winner of 44 caps, O’Connor has scored over 200 points and has plenty of Test experience.
McKenzie, though, will hope his stance has a positive effect on the rest of the squad, setting a standard that has not always existed in recent times.
O’Connor has history of missing multiple appointments with the Australian national side, receiving a suspension for one such misdemeanour in 2011, and twice found himself in trouble during the recent British and Irish Lions series, per ESPN.co.uk.
The Wallabies are rebuilding under McKenzie, who is charged with closing the gap to South Africa and New Zealand, and the sacrifice of one talented individual will—he hopes—prove for the greater good of the team.