O'Connor signs with Queensland Reds in late World Cup move

Sydney (AFP) –


Australian rugby bad boy James O'Connor is edging closer to a stunning return to the Wallabies after the Queensland Reds on Tuesday announced a new deal with the once-exiled utility back.

O'Connor joined Australia's World Cup squad at a training camp in South Africa last week, some six years after a string of off-field incidents saw him banished from the Wallabies Test team.

The utility back, who had 44 Test caps before his international career was derailed, was released by English Premiership club Sale Sharks this month to pursue his dream of returning to the national side.

The two-and-a-half year Super Rugby deal with the Reds confirmed Tuesday in his home state of Queensland paves the way for a potential Wallabies call-up ahead of the World Cup.

"I just want to say how grateful I am to be given this opportunity again," the 29-year-old said from Johannesburg.

"There?s been a lot of work put in behind the scenes and a lot of guys have shown faith in me, so all I?m focusing on right now is putting my best foot forward."

O'Connor was only 23 when the Wallabies tore up his contract in 2013 after he was prevented from boarding a flight from Perth to Bali for being drunk.

His chequered past also includes being arrested and fined in Paris in 2017 during a cocaine bust while playing for Toulon, before a move to Sale later that year.

He said the last time he attempted a return it was "too rushed" and he was still suffering mentally.

"I?ve been on a journey ever since to understanding my true self and how I?m meant to use my privileged position in Rugby," he said.

"I see now that Rugby is a gift and I want my journey back to inspire possibly other young men out there who may be a little lost in the world right now."

Rugby Australia director Scott Johnson said it was now time for O'Connor's "Rugby to do the talking".

"He?s matured and understands the leadership roles both on and off the field," he said.

"He?s been honest and transparent throughout this whole process," Johnson added.