It seems James O'Connor might not be joining French outfit Toulon after all.
The Australian utility back, who currently plays for London Irish, told Alan Manicom of GetReading that any decision regarding his future would be made with a potential call-up to the Wallabies for the upcoming World Cup in the back of his mind. Reports that he is all-but-set to join Toulon are premature:
I obviously have some decisions to make in terms of the World Cup. I have been told I have to have been playing in the Super League for a season (to be selected for Australia).
That complicates things a bit.
O'Connor wasn't the only one to speak out on his future. Brian Smith, Irish's director of rugby, said in the same article he is adamant O'Connor has not signed for anyone and claims he is unaware of any French offers the player might have received.
The news comes on the back of multiple reports in the French media that claimed O'Connor would be joining current European champions Toulon, with L'Equipe going as far as calling it a "certainty" (reported by the Australian Associated Press via the Guardian).
The 23-year-old back is currently exiled from the Wallabies as a result of multiple incidents involving alcohol, as reported by Mick Cleary of the Telegraph.
Additionally, under Australia Union rules, a player has to ply his trade in Australia in order to be eligible for a call-up to the National team.
Reports that O'Connor would be joining fellow exile Matt Giteau at Toulon next season now appear to have been premature, as O'Connor has not yet given up on his dream of appearing in the 2015 World Cup.
Any deal with the French outfit would almost certainly exclude the player from a potential call-up.
Mick Crossan, Irish's club president since taking over the team earlier this year, revealed he plans to use O'Connor to spearhead the team's resurgence and would not like to see his new star leave. He also took the time to compliment the young fullback on his exemplary behaviour since joining London Irish:
He turned 23 in July and all the reports you heard was that you've got this young lad who was off the rails. He's far from that. My son's 23 and James has done nothing different occasionally to what my son does most weekends.
After his first game against Northampton, James attended our post-match Q&A and he held the whole crowd. Whether people were seven or 70, he had time for them all and he made sure he spoke to every one of them.
This lad is very special...It's about building a community (at London Irish) and he can be at the forefront.
O'Connor will be faced with making a big decision as the season goes along, as his future as a Wallaby will depend on where he plays his rugby. There is no doubting the player's talent, but after his recent off-field scandals he really needs to prove himself to the Australian selectors.
Will Genia, Australia's star halfback, certainly believes in the youngster, pointing to the case of Quade Cooper who turned his career around after being in a similar situation.
Talking to Jamie Pandaram of the Daily Telegraph, Genia warned O'Connor that a return to the squad would "take time" but stated he was hopeful the Irish back would go through a similar transformation (via news.com.au).
London Irish have yet to win a game with O'Connor in the line-up.
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