Two of the men whose names will long be associated with the Qantas Wallabies’ series defeat to the British & Irish Lions could be retracing their roots next season.
James O’Connor and Kurtley Beale both played central roles against the Lions, with O’Connor scoring a try in the third Test but failing to ignite the Australian backline from his new position of fly-half and Beale missing two late penalty attempts that would have won the first international for the hosts.
The pair’s current club, the Rebels, have already stated that they won’t be looking to extend their contracts into next term after their two-year spell in Melbourne didn’t hit the heights that many had predicted or indeed expected.
Now both men are in talks with their former employers, with Beale looking set to head back to the Waratahs while O’Connor could well re-join the Force.
O’Connor doesn’t appear to be inunadated with options if he wants to remain in Australia, especially if he wants to continue playing at fly-half or inside centre rather than wing or full back. The 23-year-old is due to meet Force head coach Michael Foley and chief executive Mark Sinderberry at some point this week to discuss a return to Perth, with an overseas move a real possibility if those talks don’t go to plan.
The versatile back featured for the Force between 2008 and 2011, becoming the youngest Super Rugby debutant at just 17 years of age and scoring a total of 306 points in 38 appearances for Australia’s second newest franchise. Despite the re-emergence of question marks surrounding his attitude after he was photographed in a fast-food joint at 3.50am on the Wednesday before the second Test against the Lions, O’Connor’s signing would still be a major boost for the Force after they finished as the worst-placed Aussie side this season with just four wins in 16 games.
As for Beale, who was with O’Connor when they were snapped with a Lions fan in Burger King prior to the Melbourne international, he too is expected to re-sign with the team that launched his professional career back in 2007. The 24-year-old spent four years with the Waratahs before his high-profile switch to the Rebels, making 68 appearances and scoring over 350 points from fly-half, full back and centre.
His time at AMI Park in Melbourne was then tarnished by disciplinary problems after he was first suspended for an altercation with team-mates Gareth Delve and Cooper Vuna and then again for breaching his alcohol ban while undergoing counselling for binge drinking issues.
The Rebels have since announced that they weren’t keen on keeping Beale for 2014, although Waratahs head coach Michael Cheika insists that wasn’t actually the case. The former Leinster boss claims that the Rebels had wanted Beale on their rooster for next season but that the player had instead opted to talk to the Tahs.
"He's another guy who nobody wants by the sound of it," said Cheika, who isn’t happy with how the Rebels have dealt with Beale’s contract situation.
"I noticed that (statement) come out from Melbourne. I think that's a little bit disappointing to be honest that they'd put that out, because their captain was out saying a couple of days before: 'We want him to stay here and we could play with him no drama'.
"So maybe the fact that that they didn't get him, they put that out to go against the bloke to make him look like he's no good, and I think that that's really bad karma.
"You shouldn't be doing that to make yourself look good. Go for the player and if he comes to you, that's great. If he doesn't, move on. You don't have to try and get him in the public eye. That wasn't necessary from Melbourne. I think it's very different to the situation with James O'Connor…they're not telling the truth.
"We want Kurtley. I've said that already, or that we're talking with him."