O’Connor more mature on return to Oz

Date published: January 6 2015

James O’Connor is eager to prove he has changed as a player after his return to Australian rugby following a spell in Europe.

The versatile three-quarter moved to the northern hemisphere during the 2013/14 season after a string of off-field incidents led to his contract with the ARU being torn up.

Still only 24, O’Connor, who has 44 caps to his name, spent most of last season with London Irish in the Premiership before joining European champions Toulon in France.

While his short spell in the Top 14 has been hampered by niggling injuries, O’Connor believes he’s grown as a result of the experience, as he did during his time with the Exiles.

He now returns to Australia where he will play for the Reds in Super Rugby. O’Connor revealed that he had not yet spoken to Wallaby coach Michael Cheika, but while his initial focus is on a successful start to the Super Rugby season with the Reds, the utility back also has his sights set on cracking the Australian World Cup squad.

“I made mistakes,” he said. “It probably took me six months when I was away to come to an understanding, take a step back; it didn’t initially hit me.

“My goal was to go away, improve as a rugby player and, you know, I met a lot of people, a lot of good people, and I think it just brushed off on me. And I think to be honest, it’s the best move I’ve done.

“I’d like to say, I’d like to feel I’m in a different headspace. It’s just a lot of little things, and I think balance is a big part of it. I moved away from the safety of my family, my friends; it was tough being out by myself, meeting a whole different group of people and, to be honest, all the clubs were very welcoming.

“It was a tough transition, but once you sort of get that understanding of where you went wrong it all became pretty clear to me how I could come back on track; and it was just by working hard and doing the little things right.

“I’ve gone away and I’ve made some really positive steps. On the rugby field, I think I’ve trained harder than I’ve probably ever have before and mixed it with some really talented players that have a mindset; it’s pretty incredible the way they sort of think about the game.

“But as a person as well, I think I’ve made some good momentum and it’s no doubt the Reds have a really strong contingent here and they’re a very tight group. And, for me, it’s just about coming in and mixing with the guys, and so far it feels pretty good; it’s an exciting time.”