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O'Connor aims to grab second chance

James O'Connor is determined to take his shot at redemption after admitting he needed to leave Australia to begin rehabilitation from his latest lapse in judgment.

London Irish unveiled the prodigiously talented but controversial Wallaby on Tuesday morning with director of rugby Brian Smith describing him as the most "significant signing" in the club's 115-year history.

The Exiles, struggling near the foot of the Aviva Premiership, have recruited a versatile 23-year-old veteran of 44 Tests who has his best days in front of him, but he arrives with plenty of personal baggage.

The Australian Rugby Union terminated his contract last month after he was banned from boarding a flight from Perth Airport to Bali for being drunk and escorted from the terminal for arguing with airline staff.

It was the latest in a string of disciplinary issues that have pursued a player who made his Test debut at 18, but he views the Madejski Stadium as the perfect place to start rebuilding his career.

"I'm not going to lie - I have made mistakes and that is how I have got myself into this position," said O'Connor, who could make his debut in Sunday's home match against Northampton.

"London Irish have given me a second chance and I will take that. I want to be talked about for playing my rugby and that's it.

"Away from the field I need to find balance in certain ways. I've been in bit of a bubble in the last six years.

"I've been protected quite a lot. I've made mistakes and haven't dealt with them in the way I'd like to.

"This is the next step in my life that I need right now. I want to focus on some personal development.

"I'm going to make this work. I've put myself out to come over here and I'm going to focus on the rugby. It's going to work, I know it."

O'Connor arrived in London shortly after the Australia squad, who face England at Twickenham on Saturday, and he hopes to have dinner with some of his former team-mates this week.

Australia coach Ewen McKenzie has refused to close the door on O'Connor's Test career, but admitted the player has to "modify his behaviour".

Four days prior to the second Test of the British and Irish Lions series, O'Connor and team-mate Kurtley Beale were photographed at a fast-food restaurant in Melbourne at 4am in the morning and he had previously missed buses to training and team meetings.

In 2011 he received a one-game ban for missing Australia's World Cup squad announcement, but his on-field ability has never been called into question and once he failed to secure a contract with a Super 15 team, clubs in England, France and Japan were alerted.

It was Irish and Smith - an Australian - who proved most persuasive and O'Connor agreed to join until the end of the season, although Smith hopes he stays longer.

The signing could prove a gamble that backfires, but Smith sees a man eager to change.

"Everyone in this room has made a mistake at some point, including me," he said.

"Young men are the same whether they're from my generation, my father's generation or this generation. They're ambitious but sometimes need direction.

"My grandad used to say a river without banks is just a puddle. The message is you must channel this energy and focus this potential in one direction. Hopefully that's something we can help James with.

"James understands his responsibilities here and embraces those and our culture.

"James has been used to five star hotels and everything with Australia, so to come to a club that's 130 years's grass-roots rugby again."

O'Connor, who has an Irish grandfather called Maurice, stated that he sees his future at full-back.


From Belfast Telegraph