Planet Rugby

Exiles knew of O'Connor trip

06th November 2013 08:47

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London Irish boss Brian Smith is intent on keeping Wallaby full-back James O'Connor beyond the end of his Exiles contract in May.

Smith's comments come after Irish's illustrious new signing was spotted meeting with Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal on Monday, a mere 24 hours after his Premiership debut.

The Director of Rugby was adamant he was aware of the meet-up, and remains confident he can dissuade the Wallaby full-back from joining the Top 14 giants

"I knew where James was," Smith told getReading..

"When James signed his deal with us he had already given a commitment that he would speak with people in Toulon.

"It was a pre-arranged get-together. James's agent represents three or four current Wallabies. He was over there talking to Toulon about his whole stable. James popped over to see a few of the Aussie boys who are mates of his as well."

Smith acknowledges media speculation in France is rife that the 23-year-old will link up with fellow Wallabies Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell at Toulon, but will aim to keep him at the Madejski well beyond the climax of hi current deal.

"We are very keen for James to stay for 18 months rather than six. The big question is whether he will be going back to Australian rugby at the end of this season," added Smith.

"If he plays really well for us, that is probably the first option. He is a genuinely world-class player and should be playing Test rugby.

"There were other clubs looking at James when we tracked him down.

"From our point of view it is not an issue. We are really happy with James. He is delighted with the welcome he has got. The fans responded well to him and he has been bowled over by the Irish welcome.

"I'd like to think that while James is in the northern hemisphere, London Irish will be his home."

At present Australia will not select players who ply their trade outwith their home country, but Smith believes O'Connor could still make his nation's 2015 World Cup squad even if he were still at the Reading-based side.

"Currently Australia's policy is you have to be playing in the country, but there are some really good players not playing in Australia," stated Smith.

"Who knows if that policy will stay the same? It is a bit of a moveable feast and when you have an exceptional talent like James I am sure people will make the right decision based on what's good for Australian rugby."

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