Controversy-prone Wallabies winger James O’Connor faces a nervous wait on two fronts as he attempts to relax in Bali.
Because of his incident at Perth airport, when he was barred from taking an international flight, he risks being suspended from the Wallabies’ two-Test tour to South Africa and Argentina which departs on Monday.
And he must also wait to learn whether the matter has spooked the Western Force – the only Australian Super Rugby franchise interested in signing him for next season – after he was hopeful of clinching a deal as early as this week.
O’Connor is under investigation by the Australian Rugby Union after being removed from Perth airport early on Sunday morning and barred from taking a flight to Bali because he was allegedly intoxicated.
The incident comes at the worst possible time for O’Connor, whose rugby future is up in the air after the Melbourne Rebels declined to offer him a new contract in July.
The Force will wait until the ARU completes its investigation before deciding whether to continue negotiations with O’Connor, who has a history of off-field problems.
But they will be reluctant to compromise the strong player culture they’ve set up under coach Michael Foley.
If the 23-year-old is unable to secure a deal with the Force, he may continue his rugby career in Europe, or make a switch to the NRL.
Those options would make him ineligible to play for the Wallabies.
Just last week, O’Connor spoke of his passion for the Wallabies, and his hunger to play a key role in helping them reach their potential under new coach Ewen McKenzie who had declared he started with a clean slate.
“I’m very happy in rugby at the moment. Very much enjoying my time here,” O’Connor said before last week’s 14-13 win over Argentina in Perth.
“I’ve got a lot I want to achieve in this game with this group. I don’t think we’ve reached anywhere near our peak.”
O’Connor has reportedly denied being drunk during the airport incident, but did admit to engaging in a heated argument over the seating arrangements for him and his girlfriend.
ARU integrity officer Phil Thomson is investigating the claims and a decision is expected before the Wallabies fly out to Cape Town on Monday morning.
O’Connor, who was removed from the terminal by Australian Federal Police officers but ended up boarding a later flight to Bali, is expected to return to Australia later this week.
Although the latest incident in itself is relatively minor, it continues a worrying trend.
In 2010, O’Connor was allegedly involved in an altercation with teammates Quade Cooper and Kurtley Beale in Paris.
A year later, he was handed a one-Test suspension after missing the Wallabies’ World Cup squad announcement and photo following a night out.
In June, O’Connor and Beale were photographed at 4am at a fast-food outlet just days out from the second Test against the British and Irish Lions.
The off-field shenanigans of Beale, O’Connor and Quade Cooper contributed to the downfall of former Wallabies coach Robbie Deans.
McKenzie is well aware of that, and he’s already placed a strong emphasis on team culture.
The former Queensland Reds boss is not afraid of making tough decisions, as evidenced by last week’s shock relegation of star halfback and Reds favourite Will Genia to the bench.
It won’t be a relaxed few days in Bali for O’Connor.