By Alan Dymock
THERE IS a sitcom starring David Cross called ‘The increasingly poor decisions of Todd Margaret’ and while the subject is somewhat unusual – the American protagonist spends his days trying to flog an energy drink to the British – you could supplant the name of the lead character with one of Mike Phillips or James O’Connor and the title would still make perfect sense.
The Welsh scrum-half is anxiously awaiting his fate with club Bayonne after it was reported he had been sacked by the club following an incident where allegedly he, Kiwi stand-off Stephen Brett and Dwayne Haare all turned up drunk to a video analysis session following an Amlin Challenge Cup victory over Grenoble.
The club later announced that the report from ‘paper Midi Olympique was inaccurate, stating: “Aviron Bayonnais Rugby Pro says that so far no decision has been made regarding the recent facts reported by the press.
“Aviron Bayonnais Rugby Pro deplores the deliberate attempt on the part of Midi Olympique and its website rugbyrama.fr to destabilise (the club) on the eve of an important game in the club season.”
However, Phillips himself has been moved to apologise for his actions and will have to see where things land. The player is no stranger to controversy and while he has protested that things have been blown out of proportion before this incident sits in stark contrast with his sentiment in the August edition of Rugby World, when he said he was looking to settle down and have a few young ‘uns.
Some Welsh fans have called for the Lion to return to Wales, however it remains to be seen what the fallout of this latest infraction will be and what the actual facts are. Nevertheless, with Phillips being 31, some may be surprised that headlines like this are still being written.
However, while it could be argued that the half-back should know better, there is an almost off-kilter response to the news that James O’Connor may be coming to England to ply his trade with London Irish.
After being told that he was a poisonous influence in the Wallaby dressing room and being let loose by the Melbourne Rebels it was announced that O’Connor would have no contract with the ARU until after 2014. This was a move that gave O’Connor the option to take a look at himself and decide whether he wanted to knuckle down and aim for full reinstatement – there was never any official statement to say his Australian future was completely over from that point – in 2015 and for the Rugby World Cup.
At 23, the versatile back has already amassed 44 caps, still has the mentality to impress on a good day and could side-step wood in a matchbox. What he does lack, though, besides the fortitude to avoid social howlers, is foresight.
Surely it would be better for James O’Connor the athlete and James O’Connor the human to stay in Australia?
While several parties have expressed excitement at potentially seeing another talented star cutting a swathe through the Aviva Premiership, a lower-order side seeking big names is hardly likely to impose social shackles on him. Or are they? Is the big city of London the environment for him to stay in, live clean and reflect on his past failings?
He has time to pull his socks up and earn his way back into international favour for 2015. It will be much harder to do so from Europe and maybe this is the sort of mountain he needs to climb and so he has purposefully chucked his crampons away.
Who knows, but he is lucky he still has options in a continent that have a liberal approach to signing from outside its borders. However, if O’Connor was to look at Mike Phillips (who certainly does still have an international future at this point) he would quickly see that even the liberal European clubs take a hard-line view when players behave unprofessionally.
Let’s hope the pair have set their minds to make the kind of decisions that make them better people and ensure they are still superb rugby players two years from now.