The Sale Sharks have released James O’Connor to allow the Australian to return to his home country and resurrect his Test career with the Wallabies.
O’Connor was into the final year of his three-year contract with the Premiership side, but director of rugby Steve Diamond has released him to join a Vodacom Super Rugby side.
While none of the Australian franchises has announced the deal yet, it appears the 28-year-old will join the Reds and play for them in next year’s Super Rugby campaign.
O’Connor was photographed at the Wallabies’ training camp in Brisbane on Wednesday, but it is understood that he is unlikely to be involved in their Rugby Championship opener against the Springboks in Johannesburg on 20 July. He will instead keep training with the wider Wallabies squad.
‘I have nothing but positive words to say about my experience at Sale Sharks,’ O’Connor said in a statement. ‘They took me in and gave me an opportunity at a time in my life when I needed support and needed a chance to right my wrongs.
‘In Manchester, I was given a foundation to do that. I will be forever grateful to Steve Diamond, all the players and coaches, and the Sale Sharks supporters who have all helped facilitate my journey back to full power. Without the experience at Sale I would not have been able to grow and find my true self in a chaotic period of my life.’
O’Connor made his Test debut at just 18 years old in 2008, making him the second youngest Wallaby in Test history. Despite going on to win 44 Test caps for his country, starting games at fullback, wing, centre and flyhalf, O’Connor’s international career was cut short after a series of off-field incidents in 2013 resulted in his Rugby Australia contract being torn up.
A move to Europe followed, with O’Connor enjoying fruitful stints with London Irish and Toulon before returning to the Reds in 2015 in a bid to make the World Cup squad. After being overlooked, O’Connor went back to Toulon, but left the Top 14 club in 2017 after allegations of cocaine use. He joined the Sale Sharks at the beginning of the 2017-18 season and went on to play 32 times for the Manchester-based club, scoring 15 points.
Photo: Rugby AU Media/Stuart Walmsley