The worst kept secret in rugby has been confirmed as James O’Connor has signed a two and half year deal with the Queensland Reds and Rugby Australia.
The utility back was granted a release from his contract with Gallagher Premiership side the Sale Sharks as he wanted to give himself the best opportunity to represent the Wallabies at the upcoming 2019 Rugby World Cup.
O’Connor wasn’t named in Michael Cheika’s initial squad for the Rugby Championship but he has since travelled to South Africa as he prepares for the Wallabies’ opening encounter with the Springboks on Saturday.
O’Connor has not represented the Wallabies since 2013 and he has spent the intervening years playing his club rugby across Europe.
“The last time I returned, I thought I was ready to repair some of the mistakes I made but also reach my Rugby potential, but it was too rushed,” O’Connor told the Wallabies’ website.
“I didn’t recognise how much pain I was still in mentally, in saying that, I wouldn’t change it because I was guided to the correct mentors. 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. 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. If I can make it back from adversity, then so can you.
“I think 12 is my position. I’ve been playing there the last two years and I’m most comfortable there. I think it’s best with the style of Rugby I play and the way I have developed being overseas. Also, I’m now a bit of a nugget so I fit in there quite nicely. But of course, I will cover anywhere in the backline – whatever the team needs. It would simply just be an honour to put the shirt back on again. I would play prop if I had to.”
Rugby Australia Director of Rugby Scott Johnson said: “James has immense Rugby talent. He started his career in Queensland and this is a chance for him to show his full potential for his home state.
“Now is the time for James’ Rugby to do the talking. He’s come home for the right reasons to play Rugby and to help develop our Rugby programs.
“He’s matured and understands the leadership roles both on-and-off the field. He’s been honest and transparent throughout this whole process.
“We want to back the man to be the player we know he can be,” Johnson said.