How James O’Connor, Australian rugby’s former bad boy, turned his life around

When requested if he minds the present part of his worldwide profession being described as a “second act”, James O’Connor can not assist however chuckle. “Oh, I like that!” he says.

O’Connor’s two-part profession is neatly summed up by his look for the Barbarians this weekend towards Samoa: his first outing for the invitational XV got here in 2010 in a well-known win towards South Africa, when O’Connor was nonetheless very a lot within the prodigy part of his rugby profession.

He is 31 now, however it isn’t merely the passing years which have matured him. O’Connor, it’s honest to say, has had his share of dramas since making his Test debut aged simply 18 in 2008. Injuries and controversies – most notably being arrested by French police on suspicion of making an attempt to purchase cocaine in 2017 (he was by no means charged) and admitting to alcohol and prescription drug abuse – led to a six-year hiatus in his worldwide profession from 2013-2019.

It was a bleak interval, however the meantime has at the least allowed him to know how and why it occurred. “I didn’t feel like the pressure came until I had been at the top for a while. At the start you are like a sponge taking everything in. The pressure for me came when I opened every door and I started destroying myself because you are always looking for that next high and, if it is not coming on the rugby field, you look for it off it,” he tells Telegraph Sport.

O’Connor’s years within the worldwide wilderness did, at the least, enable him to broaden his rugby horizons, by means of spells at London Irish, Toulon and Sale Sharks, the membership he credit with serving to to set him again on the correct path. “That’s the place I re-found my love for rugby and began my second life,” he says. 

As nicely as re-building himself as a participant beneath then director of rugby Steve Diamond, he additionally started life-altering work with Saviour World, a Scottish-based males’s mentoring organisation arrange by Englishman Ollie Pryce-Tidd. O’Connor says Saviour World “is almost a way of life for men in [making sure] you are consistently growing and moving forward. I can’t predict the future but, without the help of the guys from Saviour World, I wouldn’t have been on a good trajectory.”

Both Kyle Sinckler and Danny Cipriani have credited Saviour World with serving to their careers. “One factor about being a person is that you need to expertise it your self,” O’Connor adds. “Lots of individuals instructed me tips on how to do the correct issues however I wanted to make my very own errors, which I want I had learnt after the primary two moderately than the primary 20.”

The tradition at Sale, overseen by Diamond, was arduous however useful to O’Connor, who thrived on with the ability to channel his vitality completely on his rugby, away from off-field distractions. 

“I think it was because I was so far from home – my focus was fully on rugby but not in a way that it was too demanding or thinking about it too much,” he says. “I found a really nice balance at Sale where I could train hard, I enjoyed life away from footie and I really enjoyed turning up for training every day.”

Not that the whole lot was to the style of a participant who grew up on the Gold Coast.

“A lot of the rugby was tough – I am not going to lie. Living up in Manchester, my last season at Sale, there were only two games where it was dry,” he says with one other chuckle. 

“But in terms of my purpose off the rugby field, it was about, ‘What am I waking up for? Why am I playing rugby?’ For a long time my whole reason for playing rugby was just because I was known as James O’Connor the rugby player.”

Since a profitable return to the worldwide fold, together with a powerful efficiency on the 2019 World Cup, O’Connor captained the Reds to the Super Rugby Australia title this yr and has signed a deal which retains him in Australia at the least till the 2023 World Cup.

O’Connor provides extra credit score to a different Englishman for this second interval of success – Dave Alred, the efficiency coach maybe finest recognized for his work with Jonny Wilkinson to assist remodel him right into a place-kicking fly-half. 

“Dave has been unreal. He has helped redefine my whole game. When I went back to Australia, I was a centre and I hadn’t kicked a ball in years,” he says. “We actually began from scratch.”



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