James O’Connor has been suspended from the Tri-Nations decider between
the Wallabies and All Blacks at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday as
punishment for failing to attend the Australian Rugby Union’s World Cup
squad announcement in Sydney last week.
The 21-year-old embarked
on a late-night drinking session with teammates shortly after they
arrived back from a triumphant trip to South Africa on Wednesday. He was
the only player missing when the tour party for New Zealand was named
the following morning at a function attended by dignatries including ARU
managing director and chief executive John O’Neill and 1999 World
Cup-winning captain John Eales.
O’Connor, who also missed the
official team photo, delivered a scripted apology at a Wallabies fan day
at Ballymore here yesterday, but it was not enough to save one of
Australian rugby’s most marketable players from copping a one-week ban.
He also faces a $A10,000 fine if he breaks team protocols again before December 31.
hero of the Wallabies 26-24 Bledisloe Cup test win in Hong Kong 10
months ago, O’Connor will now be forced to watch the climax to this
year’s Tri-Nations from the stands.
He is expected to be replaced
on the right wing by current centre Adam Ashley-Cooper while Anthony
Faingaa is set to partner Pat McCabe in midfield when the Wallabies team
is named tomorrow.
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans was critical of O’Connor’s indiscretion yesterday, equating his absence to a breach of trust.
Australian Rugby Union Players Association, usually staunch defenders
of their members, also took exception to O’Connor’s no-show.
RUPA president Adam Freier advocated O’Connor’s dumping yesterday.
who will be a teammate of O’Connor at the Melbourne Rebels next year,
said a strong message needed to be sent to the high-profile 28-test
The former Wallabies hooker was concerned O’Connor, who
had explained his shock June defection from the Western Force to the
Rebels as the best move for his “brand”, was headed into dangerous
“It’s an early crossroads for him, and he can go two ways here,” Freier told the ABC’s Offsiders programme.
best thing Robbie can do is starve him of actually performing and
hopefully that will move him in a new direction because he’s been
rattled talking brands.
“He made a terrible mistake, a lack of judgement, and he should be punished.”
most recent Wallaby to be stood down from a test for disciplinary
reasons was double international Lote Tuqiri, who was suspended was
suspended for two matches in July 2007 and fined after blowing a
positive alcohol reading at training.
five-eighth Elton Flatley also incurred a one-match ban before the 2003
World Cup when he missed a team recovery session after a late night.
Before O’Connor’s punishment was made public, Wallabies hooker Stephen Moore said he hoped O’Connor would play the All Blacks.
“I don’t know the facts of what happened but we’d love to have James playing at the weekend,” Moore said.
“He’s an important part of our team. You’d rather have him on the field than not, that’s for sure.”