Despite an early release from his Queensland Reds contract, and an ugly feud with former Wallaby Greg Martin, James O’Connor won’t be lost to Australian rugby according to good friend Quade Cooper.
It was revealed this week that O’Connor had been dealing with numerous personal issues, which was behind his release and paves the way for him to return to French powerhouse Toulon.
In the fallout, Martin has branded O’Connor an “immature twat” and “a little punk” and described him as one of Australian rugby’s greatest wasted talents.
But Cooper, whose future at the Queensland Super Rugby franchise also remains up in the air, rejected any notion that O’Connor had used up his last chance to make the most of the ability which helped him win debut for the Wallabies at 18 and earn 44 caps by the age of 25.
“He is a great player but he’s not lost to Australian rugby,” Cooper said.
“He is a quality player, he is 25 years old.
“To look at any player and say their career is over at 25 is a silly thing to say.
“He is a fantastic player and I am sure he will continue to work hard and play some football, and look for another opportunity.”
That next opportunity is likely to involve Toulon, where the mega bucks of billionaire Mourad Boudjellal have previously lured the precociously gifted O’Connor.
While O’Connor is 16 shy of the 60-Test cut-off which makes overseas players eligible, Cooper pointed out that others – including himself and fellow World Cup star Kurtley Beale – had overcome their own off-field controversies to be welcomed back into the Wallabies fold.
“Opportunity is something as a footballer you look for,” he said.
“I have got one (to play the quarter-final against Scotland, Kurtley has got one and there are a fair few other guys who have been able to get opportunities, sometimes in ways you wouldn’t want, but however you can (get them), you take it and work as hard as possible.”
Cooper said he had been in touch with O’Connor this week and came to his defence in the simmering feud with Martin.
O’Connor hit back at Martin on Thursday night, posting a 1523-word defence on Facebook and claiming the nine-Test Wallaby turned commentator was bullying and had “no interest in the truth”.
“I have spoken a few words to him. I don’t think he meant any harm,” Cooper said.
“All he was getting at from my understanding was the commentating needs to lay off some of the boys.
“But we are all big boys and I am sure we can handle it.”