As many talented players exit Australian rugby and further send our national rugby stocks plummeting into oblivion, I’d like to shed a bit of hope on the anticipated return of Australia’s once golden child: James O’Connor.
I know, I know, he’s had a very coloured past but when I think about what has been said by Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell, Tim Walsh and Stephen Hoiles, it got me thinking. Could the rebel be the new standard issue Wallaby?
I’d like to quickly explore the major difference between our boys in gold and our neighbours in black. The Beauden Barretts and Sam Whitelocks of this world could be plying their trades in the European circuit for many more times their current pay but for some reason they stay despite this attraction. Why?
The key difference is a deep passion and drive to get an opportunity to pull on the coveted jersey and represent the nation well and win for the many thousands of fans cheering them on. This passion appears to override the economic opportunities of foreign lands.
I’m not ignoring the many people in the Wallabies set-up who no doubt have passion for the jersey too, but the difference is that it seems the All Black boys would rather turn down massive sums to stay and play for the jersey, then chase dollars after they’ve finished.
There are plenty of Kiwis that leave for better payments overseas but I’d wager they are made up of more fringe players than key players – guys like Lima Sopoaga and Charles Piutau.
We aren’t experiencing this in Australia. Samu Kerevi, Rory Arnold and Adam Coleman are among our premiere players set to leave. We just aren’t able to retain the players unless we offer them crazy sums to compete with foreign contracts.
And so here enters JOC.
A man who was exiled – and rightly so – for misconduct and poorly representing the Wallabies in the public spotlight.
For six years, that prodigy has been left out in the cold by RA to think on his actions and now – finally – he is expected to return home and as a much more mature and passionate football player. This is why he is the perfect example of what the Wallabies should be.
Like All Blacks players have the potential to, O’Connor was earning significant sums overseas but cut it short to return to his home nation in a bid to represent Australia once more.
He has taken a significant pay cut to ink a deal in Australia and this is an encouraging sign. It shows that he has a passion for the Wallabies and wants to do his best to make us as competitive as possible and do right by all of us here at home, pay being the less important element.
Passion before pay.
If James is as hungry for redemption and national pride as he sounds like he is, Michael Cheika and the Wallabies get a mature, motivated player.
Add O’Connor to that team environment as soon as possible to bring out that desire we desperately need to replicate like our friendly neighbours from across the way.