Four years after his infamous sleep-in and James O’Connor is again set to be a high-profile no-show at the Wallabies’ Rugby World Cup squad announcement in Sydney.
A favourite of former coach Robbie Deans, O’Connor hasn’t had a look-in for the Wallabies under Michael Cheika after battling through an injury-riddled season for Queensland in his return to Australia’s Super Rugby ranks this year.
He was was left out of Cheika’s 40-man squad last month for the opening two games of the Rugby Championship and placed on a special fitness program.
Cheika had been hoping Australia’s youngest-ever World Cup fullback would return to his fleet-footed best in time to push for a spot in the Bledisloe Cup Tests against the All Blacks this month.
But time appears to have run out.
Unless Cheika has a last-minute change of heart – or sends a SOS to O’Connor, if injuries hit the Wallabies during their Cup campaign – the one-time golden boy of Australian rugby will instead ply his trade in the National Rugby Championship (NRC) starting on Thursday night.
At his best, O’Connor would have been a handy inclusion in a Wallabies backline full of uncertainties.
O’Connor atoned for embarrassing the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) by not making the Wallabies’ 2011 squad announcement to be among Australia’s standout performers at the last World Cup in New Zealand.
Playing on the wing and bobbing up everywhere, O’Connor kicked the Wallabies to victory in their epic 11-9 quarter-final triumph over the Springboks.
But despite being capable of covering every position in the backline bar halfback, the 25-year-old is almost certain to be overlooked for selection in Australia’s 31-man squad on Friday.
The snubbing will continue O’Connor’s spectacular fall from grace after he had his contract torn up by the ARU in 2013 after a series of off-field indiscretions, being drunk at a Perth airport proving the final straw.
The 44-Test utility’s last appearance in the gold jumper came when, in a contentious call, Deans played him as five-eighth during Australia’s ill-fated 2-1 series loss to the British and Irish Lions two years ago.
Back then, O’Connor was on track to become the youngest player to rack up 100 Tests for the Wallabies.
JAMES O’CONNOR’S 2011 RUGBY WORLD CUP RECORD AND HIGHLIGHTS:
* Games: 6
* Starts: 5
* Points: 52
* Tries: 1
* Conversions: 13
* Penalties: 7
* Youngest starting fullback (21 years, 88 days) v Russia, Nelson
* Sixth-youngest Wallaby to play at World Cup (21 years, 68 days) v Italy, North Harbour
* Eighth on Australia’s all-time RWC pointscorers list
* Fifth on Australia’s all-time RWC list for conversions
* Fourth on Australia’s all-time RWC list for penalty goals
* Fourth youngest tryscorer (21 years, 68 days) v Italy, North Harbour