Back in June, Sale announced the signing of Australian international James O’Connor on a three-year deal. For me, this is such a great signing and it excites me to see what O’Connor can bring to Sale and the English Premiership (second time round).
James O’Connor became the youngest ever Super Rugby debutant at the age of just 17, and the second youngest Wallaby in Australian rugby history at only 18. It was clear then, that he was pretty good at rugby. He was one of the most exciting prospects and myself as a young full back, I’d watch James O’Connor with a bit of jealously but I loved watching him play. An interesting fact about O’Connor is that his parents are from New Zealand and his maternal grandparents were from South Africa, so he was eligible to play for all three Tri Nations teams – but chose Australia, where he was born.
Having been handed his debut back in 2007, O’Connor was capped by the Wallabies 44 times by the age of 23 and now having turned 27 this month, he has the experience of playing in the worlds elite leagues. He has played in the English Premiership before with London Irish, he has played alongside some of the worlds current best players in the French Top 14 for Toulon and of course, he has played in the Super 15 with Western Force, Melbourne Rebels and Queensland Reds. In addition to this, he played at fly-half for the Wallabies in three tests against the Lions back in 2013. This is undoubtedly, a man who does not lack experience.
Sale DoR, Steve Diamond said that O’Connor is a “world class versatile back that will add a lot to our game…he has great feet, and an unbelievable running and kicking game which will threaten any opposition…he has a lot of experience and is keen to show his international calibre. We are all pleased he has chosen to do this at Sale Sharks”. There is no doubt that the Sale youngsters, of which there are quite a few these days, will be able to learn so much from a man who has been there and done it from such a young age. He can help the likes of Sam James and Mike Haley, who were recently called up to the latest England squad.
Back in February, O’Connor was suspended by Toulon for drug offences and his career at Toulon came to a standstill. By being the new big signing at Sale Sharks, he can get his career back on track, I’m sure of that.
With O’Connor, I see similarities with Cipriani’s career. They both started out as very young hot prospects but, because of this, they failed to continue to live up to the hype. They have both had off-field controversies that have stagnated their careers. They both moved abroad to try something new in order to get their career back on track and then ended up at Sale Sharks. Of course, now, Cipriani has now moved back to Wasps, where it all began for him and where he always wanted to forge his career as it is a club that is dear to his heart. He has now successfully integrated himself into the Wasps team.
Now, I think when Steve Diamond went to O’Connor with the aim of persuading him to join Sale Sharks, he would have gone to him with the ‘Cipriani model’ and said this could be him. I think it is fairly obvious to assume that O’Connor would like to go back to Super Rugby in the next couple of seasons and play for Australia again before his career comes to an end. Whilst he can help Sale in the next couple of seasons for sure, it will be his objective to get his playing game back to a decent level and catch the eyes of a Super Rugby team.
I am a very big fan of James O’Connor and have always thought I’d love to play alongside him. Therefore, I am very excited to watch the Wallaby over the next season at Sale Sharks and wish him all the best for the upcoming season.