James O’Connor made his London Irish debut in a losing effort against Northampton Saints. Despite setting up a try for Sailosi Tagicakibau, the Exiles went down 19-14. O’Connor was spotted in France on Monday however, talking with Toulon.
The young Wallaby Exile has a contract with London Irish until May, so appears to already be looking ahead to what the future may hold, investigating opportunities in France. He enjoyed his debut though, and impressed Brian Smith, who was full of praise for the talented back.
Smith said that O’Connor was ‘outstanding, is a class act and a great kid’. “His impact on the pitch was significant,” said the London Irish Director of Rugby.
“He is a typical 23-year-old, he is a young bloke who has made some mistakes. He is super talented and a lovely bloke. He has a positive effect on a lot of people and does a bit of charity work and I think in the course of time all that will come to the fore.
“He has been dealt a pretty crook hand down under and it wouldn’t happen here.”
O’Connor remarked that the speed of the game was something he didn’t expect.
“The speed of the game was very surprising. I thought Super Rugby was fast but I was really blowing out there, that’s for sure. It felt great. The club and all the boys have been awesome since I arrived and I am really looking forward to my time here.
“I didn’t feel 100% and can get better. I wanted to perform. It was one of the best pitches I have played on. It was just a shame we could not get the win.”
As for his visit to Toulon, Smith was well aware of it and has no problem with him speaking to them.
“I knew where James was. When James signed his deal with us he had already given a commitment that he would speak with people in Toulon,” Smith explained.
“It was a pre-arranged get-together. James’s agent represents three or four current Wallabies. He was over there talking to Toulon about his whole stable. James popped over to see a few of the Aussie boys who are mates of his as well. From our point of view it is not an issue.
“We are really happy with James. He is delighted with the welcome he has got. The fans responded well to him and he has been bowled over by the Irish welcome.
“I’d like to think that while James is in the northern hemisphere, London Irish will be his home.”