Wellington – Controversial utility back James O'Connor has been released from his Australian Rugby Union (ARU) contract with immediate effect, the national governing body said on Thursday.
O'Connor, who had been stood down by Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie for the final two matches of the southern hemisphere's Rugby Championship after another investigation into off-field behavioural issues, had agreed to the decision, the ARU said.
“We are hopeful that James will stay in Australian rugby and play in next year's Super Rugby competition and that he sees this as an opportunity to re-focus his attitude and invest in all aspects of his professional rugby career,” ARU chief executive Bill Pulver said in a statement.
“If James chooses to stay in Australia and play Super Rugby, he would be eligible to play for the Wallabies in 2014, as long as his behaviour was consistent with our expectations and if his form warranted selection.”
The decision to cancel his ARU contract does not affect his attempting to secure a Super Rugby contract with an Australian team.
O'Connor, however, is still without a Super Rugby team for next season after he was released by the Melbourne Rebels earlier this year, with only the Perth-based Western Force interested in signing him.
The talented 23-year-old's career has been blighted with off-field incidents, the most recent of which was when he was escorted by police off a plane at Perth airport after the Wallabies' narrow 14-13 victory over Argentina.
McKenzie then suspended O'Connor “indefinitely” until his behaviour improved.
O'Connor, who played flyhalf in the British and Irish Lions series earlier this year before moving back to the wing for the Rugby Championship, has won 44 caps for his country since his debut in 2008.
Most notably, he missed the official launch of Australia's 2011 World Cup campaign at Sydney airport after sleeping in. He was also photographed at a fast food restaurant at 4am with fellow Wallabies back Kurtley Beale during the Lions series.
O'Connor had earlier told News Limited newspapers that he apologised for his behaviour and would look to try to re-establish himself in the national set-up.
He was still in negotiations with the Western Force for a Super Rugby contract, he said.
“I want to apologise for any issues that I have caused and I want express my respect for my team mates, the Wallabies and the jumper,” O'Connor said.
“There is nothing more important and rewarding to me than representing my country.
“I recognise that given my actions and the circumstances it is best for the team and myself to go in different directions in the short term.
“I remain focused on earning my place back with the Wallabies and will be looking for the right opportunity to do this.
“I realise I need to earn back a lot of respect, and that is exactly what I plan to do both on and off the field.” – Reuters