Queensland is emerging as the most likely destination for former Wallaby James O’Connor.
O’Connor was in advanced talks to join the Western Force before his departure to Europe last year, and it was widely assumed the two parties would pick up where they left off. But the Breakdown understands that while the Force remain open to a reunion, the Gold Coast-raised O’Connor is leaning towards the Reds and his former coach at the Force, Richard Graham.
The 44-Test outside back will leave Premiership club London Irish for Toulon in coming weeks, where he will join fellow former Wallabies Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell.
In an interview in England last week O’Connor reaffirmed his desire to pull on the gold jersey again.
“My goal is to play for Australia, and a World Cup is the pinnacle. There’s the Lions and the World Cup, and if you win one of them during your career you’ll be satisfied,” he told The Rugby Paper.
“I took a risk coming here but it’s something I needed to do to refresh myself. I’d been lucky to experience six years of Super Rugby and five of Test rugby, and I wouldn’t change it, but last year was tough personally so to come here and experience a different lifestyle and rugby has been a breath of fresh air.”
ARU left at sixes and Sevens
One month after the outrageous success of the NRL Nines tournament in Auckland, this column was fascinated to learn of an aborted ARU plan to stage a cross-code Sevens tournament in Sydney every January.
The idea was to field a Sevens team from every Australian and New Zealand Super Rugby side and invite five or so NRL clubs to take part in the two-day event at Allianz Stadium.
The ARU wanted it up and running for January 2012, and had secured the support of then-NRL boss David Gallop. It ran into trouble with the Australian Super Rugby sides, with a number of head coaches believing it would interrupt their pre-season preparations.
But imagine the profile Sevens rugby would have now had the first tournament gone ahead featuring players such as Quade Cooper, Bernard Foley, Nick Cummins, Tevita Kuridrani, Henry Speight, Robbie Fruean, Johnathan Thurston and Greg Inglis?
Australia boasts the number one women’s Sevens team in the world right now and a men’s team that is capable of much more than their recent results suggest.
The Gold Coast Sevens tournament – the first of nine legs in the IRB World Series – is an excellent event, and Pulver is serious when he says winning Olympic gold in Rio will be the ARU’s biggest priority in 2016, over and above the Bledisloe Cup, Rugby Championship and Super Rugby titles.
But Australian rugby fans have not taken the game, or the teams, into their hearts the way they have the Wallabies and Reds, for example.
Rio de Janeiro is just around the corner. The ARU – key players in securing sevens an Olympics berth in the first place – needs to win Australian hearts and minds.
Cheika chooses bright side
Michael Cheika always has something interesting to say. Last week The Breakdown asked him if anything had surprised him during his first 18 months back in Australia after eight years away, and he responded with the following: “I’m a little bit disappointed about the negativity around rugby.”
When asked to clarify, he said: “There’s a big negative vibe about the state of the game. There are still a lot of positive things coming from the game as well, but in Australia, we concentrate far too much on the negative sides of the game for some reason.
“There are so many good things about the game that we should be enjoying them, instead of of worrying. Just get on with it, do your best and enjoy the good bits. That’s what sport’s about. It’s not often you can get that many people together with everyone having a good time, watching the game and enjoying themselves, forgetting about their worries on a day-to-day basis. I think we’ve got to get some perspective on those things.”
It is a sentiment this column hears echoed a lot around the traps recently, from Queensland to Western Australia, and appears to refer to the oft-repeated “We’re broke” line coming out of the Australian Rugby Union.
Which is not to say it is not true. But ARU boss Bill Pulver has delivered the painful reality check, and now needs to nurse the game back to health in the public eye while he tries to do the same behind the scenes.
The constant doom and gloom messages are wearing thin on interstate administrators. And a few prominent coaches as well, it turns out.