Melbourne Rebels dump James O'Connor

Last updated 14:04 07/07/2013
James O'Connor
Getty Images
WRAPPED UP: James O'Connor is taken in a tackle during the first test against the Lions.

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Wallabies five eighth James O'Connor's playing future in Australia is under a cloud after the Melbourne Rebels opted not to offer him a Super Rugby contract for 2014.

The Rebels' shock decision comes as a major blow to the young playmaker less than 24 hours after the O'Connor-guided Wallabies crashed to a 41-16 series-deciding loss to the British and Irish Lions in the third Test in Sydney.

"After three years in the Super 15 competition, the club is entering the next phase of development," Rebels chief executive Rob Clarke said in a statement."I am very confident in our player recruitment strategies which continue to identify some excellent emerging talent. This group will provide the platform for continual improvement, both on and off the field."

On the field, O'Connor has struggled with injuries during his two-season stint in Melbourne.

Off the field, he has repeatedly found himself in strife, most recently when he was out with Rebels and Wallabies teammate Kurtley Beale at Burger King at 4am just days before Australia's must-win second Test against the Lions in Melbourne.

Having long coveted the Wallabies' No.10 jumper, O'Connor was left pleading his case to remain in the Test team "anywhere" after besieged Test coach Robbie Deans' experiment with him as playmaker backfired against the Lions on Saturday night.

Deans' future was always going to hinge on how an overhauled back line performed with O'Connor calling the shots at five-eighth, but the move failed in the 2-1 series defeat.

O'Connor improved throughout the series and was one of Australia's better players in the 41-16 third Test loss, scoring their only try thanks to a superb jinking run on Saturday night.

However, it was apparent from the outset the 22-year-old's elusive ball-running game was better suited on the right wing or inside centre as he struggled to take the right options as chief playmaker.

The Melbourne Rebels star probably sealed his fate with his continued ill-discipline off the field, and showing a lack of remorse after his early-morning burger run with Beale.

Deans' days are rapidly coming to an end and potential successors Jake White or Ewen McKenzie will not stand for such lax standards that has senior players ropeable and wanting action taken.

McKenzie would sweep his Queensland Reds playmaker, Quade Cooper, back into No.10 while White would be more likely to team his Brumbies playmakers Matt Toomua and Christian Lealiifano.

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Possibly knowing that a change in coach could spell doom for his own immediate Test future, O'Connor played down his own desire to wear the gold No.10 jersey after the four-tries-to-one loss.

"I've said I want to play 10 but I just want to be part of the team," he said. "I want to be on that field.

"I'll play wherever I can.

"I would like to nut down a position, maybe 10, maybe somewhere else.

"I can look myself in the mirror and say I gave my best shot for Australia."

Deans delivered minor but rare criticism of O'Connor after the first Test less than a fortnight ago but praised his game after the Lions forwards dominated the decider at ANZ Stadium.

"There wouldn't be a player in the world that would have thrived," the coach said.

"I thought under the circumstances he did really well."

- AP

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