James David O'Connor
- 832Wallaby Number
It is arguable that there has been no more wasted talent in Wallaby history than James O’Connor. A schoolboy prodigy, one who could have played for Australia (place of birth), New Zealand (parents) or South Africa (maternal grandparents), O’Connor earned 44 Wallaby caps by the age of 23 before his international career came to an abrupt end.
Born in Queensland, but raised in the early part of his life in New Zealand, O’Connor was one of a long list of Wallabies to have graduated from Nudgee College, Brisbane. A back of phenomenal skill and extreme versatility, O’Connor won selection in the Queensland I side which won the 2007 Australian Schools’ Division 1 Championship, and then Australian Schools.
2008 saw O’Connor make his Super Rugby debut, not for Queensland, but for the Western Force and in doing so become the youngest player in the tournament’s history. Later that year, and with only a handful of Super Rugby caps to his name, he was picked in the Wallabies’ end-of-season Spring Tour squad. He made his Test debut - at just 18 years and 126 days - as a replacement against Italy in Padova. At the time O’Connor had the rugby world at his feet.
In 2010, O’Connor helped to snap an 11-game, two-plus year losing streak against the All Blacks in Hong Kong when he scored a last-minute try, followed by an angled conversion to give Australia a triumphant 26-24 win.
He was selected to his first Rugby World Cup squad in 2011 and calmly slotted a decisive 72nd minute penalty against South Africa to secure the Wallabies a semi-final tie with New Zealand.
Sadly a string of off-field incidents began to mar a career that could have seen O’Connor become the most capped Wallaby of all time. The final straw came in September 2013 when O’Connor was prevented from boarding a flight out of Perth and led out of the terminal by a representative of the Australian Federal Police.
In October the ARU announced it had reached a mutual agreement to grant O’Connor an early release from his national contract for 2013 and would not offer him a national contract for 2014. O’Connor spent the next two years in Europe, firstly with London Irish and then Toulon.
In 2015 O’Connor returned to Australia and signed with the Queensland Reds as he looked “for a fresh start”. He subsequently “struggled with some personal matters” and as a consequence the club exercised a release clause in his contract.
Selected in the Australian Schools squad for Tests against England U18s and New Zealand Schools.
Represented Australia in the IRB Sevens World Series.
O’Connor won his first Test cap off the bench when he replaced Adam Ashley-Cooper at fullback in the 30-20 victory over Italy in Padova.
O’Connor earned his first run-on Test cap and scored his first Test try when selected at fullback in the 1st Test, 31-8 victory over Italy in Canberra. He won 13 caps, seven of which came as a starting No.15, from a possible 14 internationals.
He missed the opening Test of the season against Fiji but went on to secure caps in 13 of the final 14 Tests, ten of them as starting right wing. In the season’s final Test O’Connor scored an Australian record 29 points against the France and became the 20th Wallaby to score 100 or more Test points.
O’Connor earned a further 10 Test caps throughout the season, one in which he finished as the team’s highest points scorer (89).
A hamstring injury originally suffered during the Super Rugby season saw O’Connor miss the entire international season.
Despite having never played No.10 at international level O’Connor was chosen at fly half for each of the three British & Irish Lions Tests. His final four Test caps were won during the Rugby Championship before the unfortunate event at Perth airport brought down the curtain on his year and ultimately his entire international career.