Incoming Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has given his tick of approval to the Melbourne Rebels’ Super Rugby preparations ahead of their opening match on Saturday.
James O’Connor has had a tough job winning back lost respect from Wallabies teammates and no amount of apologies or sincere statements are going to cut it.
For the wayward star, still battling to clean up his tarnished “brand”, actions now speak louder than words.
O’Connor went from the hottest property in Australian rugby to an unwanted problem after a turbulent past two years that sunk to its nadir after the Wallabies’ 2-1 Lions series loss two months ago.
Rather than his inability to thrive as a Test playmaker, his continued misdemeanours off the field and poor team attitude saw him axed by the Melbourne Rebels.
Wallabies stalwarts had also run out of patience with O’Connor.
Hanging out with Kurtley Beale at a Melbourne burger bar at 4am four days before a Test match, missing team meetings and busses to training, the 23-year-old showed he still had plenty of growing up to do.
Then coach Robbie Deans had deflected disciplinary procedures onto the disgruntled senior players at the end of the Lions series.
Deans’ swift axing and the appointment of Ewen McKenzie has meant that didn’t occur.
Instead, McKenzie has let O’Connor know with clarity what standards are expected and now he’s showing signs he’s back on the right track.
“Link has been very up front with me, straight from the first conversation just after the Lions series,” the 42-Test utility said.
“He put faith in me and, I can’t say exactly what he said, but he said produce what you do best and we’ll go from there.
“Communication is a massive key.”
So did O’Connor, who also missed the Wallabies squad announcement for the 2011 World Cup following a big night out, feel like he needed to seek forgiveness from his teammates?
“I think with the situation and where I was at words weren’t enough – it was actions,” he said. “That’s what it’s been about. Doing the little things right and moving forward.
“It had only been four weeks at that point but it’s a long process and it’s a mindset shift.
“It’s been a tough year. I’ve definitely learned a lot on and off the field.
“In the past I haven’t dealt with (the attention) as well as I should have.”
Stalwart hooker Stephen Moore this week said Wallabies players were prepared to forgive Quade Cooper for his “toxic” complaints of last year once he showed more maturity this season.
O’Connor wants to prove the same. He stressed the squad has stayed tight despite just one win from five 2013 Tests as they approach Saturday night’s clash with South Africa at Suncorp Stadium.
“There’s a good vibe among the team,” he said. “Everyone just wants to win.
“One from five just isn’t good enough, especially when we consider ourselves to be the best players in Australia. That’s not a record you want to be having.”