Queensland Reds chief Jim Carmichael has smoothed the path for the recruitment of James O’Connor, saying the Super Rugby team had an “open mind” toward the exiled Australia back.
Capped 44 times for the Wallabies, O’Connor left Australia in disgrace last year to play with English Premiership club London Irish after his national contract was torn up following a string of off-field offences.
Although having signed with French giants Toulon, O’Connor has been linked with a move back to the struggling Reds next season, who could offer a path back into the Wallabies setup before the 2015 World Cup.
Having left the Perth-based Western Force in acrimonious circumstances in 2011, and then been dumped by the Melbourne Rebels last year, O’Connor has been blamed for undermining team culture at both Super and test level.
With his former Force coach Richard Graham now in charge at the Reds, the Brisbane-based team seem an unlikely destination for O’Connor but Carmichael suggested the right attitude might get the hugely gifted 23-year-old through the door.
“In this brutal competition you better make sure you make the right choices when you go after players,” Carmichael said in comments published by News Ltd media on Tuesday. “No one has the luxury of getting it wrong on the field or off it.
“With every footballer we start with an open mind and it’s no different with James O’Connor.
“All of them have to come with non-negotiables in terms of fitting into the culture we drive and adapting to our environment separate to their ability on the field.”
The Reds have stuttered to three wins in an abysmal Super Rugby campaign to be placed bottom of the Australian conference with six rounds of the regular season left.
Smashed in all facets of the game by New Zealand’s Crusaders at Lang Park on Sunday, O’Connor’s recruitment would hardly be a panacea for the Reds’ ills.
However, it would add a versatile player comfortable in any backline position, while compensating for the loss of the spark provided by departed winger and former Wallabies teammate Digby Ioane.
Despite the team’s struggles, Carmichael said the 2011 champions had “the nucleus” of a title-winning side.
“We’re looking at a lot of players,” Carmichael told The Australian newspaper.
“We’re probably three or four players short of a championship team but we might have to recruit five or six players to get the mix right.”
Original story on Super Sport.