Wayward Wallaby James O'Connor has taken an early release from his Australian Rugby Union contract.He will continue negotiating with Western Force and is expected to sign for the Super Rugby club but would take a huge pay cut of at least $500,000.
He could become eligible for the Wallabies in time for the 2015 World Cup if he does not slip up again.
The ARU move follows an investigation into O'Connor's behaviour after he was escorted from Perth airport by Federal police over a dispute with airline staff three weeks ago.
But there have been a string of behavioural indiscretions by O'Connor.
The Force said it was open to O'Connor returning to the club but only if he understood their non-negotiable standards and values.
They encouraged him to take time away from rugby to consider his playing future.
“Our conversations with James and his management regarding a possible return to the Force have been ongoing,” RugbyWA chief executive Mark Sinderberry said.
“These conversations have been thorough and honest, and have included Michael Foley, Matt Hodgson and players.
"These discussions have been about both on- and off-field matters that we believe can assist James to become the player he aspires to be and to develop himself as a person.
“Since the ARU’s decision, we’ve reiterated our position to James, including the non-negotiable standards and values, particularly around earning respect, that must be upheld by everyone in the team and at this club.
“However, at this point we believe it’s in James’ best interests to take time and reflect on what’s important to him and what he really wants.
“If that is being a part of this club and making a positive contribution to our club culture, then we’d be open to the prospect of continuing those discussions.
"Similarly, if he believes he would be better suited by taking some time away from Australian rugby, then we’d wish him nothing but the best with those endeavours.”O'Connor issued a statement this morning saying the release was a mutual agreement between himself and the ARU.
"The Australian Rugby Union and I have mutually agreed to put the past behind us and move forward from today," O'Connor said.
"As a professional, I am focused in developing as a person and as an athlete and intend to do everything possible to put myself in the best environment to do that.
"I want to apologise for any issues that I have caused and I want to express my respect for my teammates, the Wallabies and the jumper. There is nothing more important and rewarding to me than representing my country.
"I want to say again that I do appreciate the impact that some of my actions have had on my team and the sport in general.
"I recognise that given my actions and the circumstances it is best for the team and myself to go in different directions in the short term.
"I remain focused on earning my place back with the Wallabies and will be looking for the right opportunity to do this.
"I plan to remain on the Gold Coast with my family over the coming weeks as I consider my playing future.
"I will also continue discussions with the team at the Western Force in Perth who has shown incredible faith in me of which I am very grateful for.
"I realise I need to earn back a lot of respect, and that is exactly what I plan to do both on and off the field.
"I want to wish my teammates and the Wallabies the best of success and I will be supporting you fully in the coming months."
ARU chief executive Bill Pulver said the decision would allow O’Connor to negotiate a Super Rugby contract.
“If James chooses to stay in Australia and play Super Rugby, he would be eligible to play for the Wallabies in 2014, as long as his behaviour was consistent with our expectations and if his form warranted selection,” Mr Pulver said.
“We appreciate James’ contribution to Australian Rugby and his unique skill and flair when playing, but have determined that James must make some changes with respect to his off-field responsibilities and ensure that this approach is consistent with the values of our game.
“We pride ourselves on living the values of Rugby – passion, integrity, discipline, respect and teamwork. James has accepted these values need to be consistently upheld on and off the field at all times.
“We are hopeful that James will stay in Australian Rugby and play in next year’s Super Rugby competition and that he sees this as an opportunity to re-focus his attitude and invest in all aspects of his professional Rugby career.
“We would consider reviewing our position regarding a national contract for 2015 and beyond if we believe James’ behaviour is consistent with the values associated with being a Wallaby.
“This has been a difficult decision for all parties. James is a player with huge potential and someone who has the capacity to make a significant long-term contribution to our game – but after assessing the evidence of numerous incidents, we have an obligation to uphold the values of our game and James understands that.”
The agreement is effective immediately and as a result, O’Connor will not be considered for selection for the Qantas Wallabies’ upcoming Spring Tour to England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Italy.
The West Australian revealed six months ago that the Force were preparing a bid to bring O'Connor, 23, back to Perth and in July he was dumped by the Melbourne Rebels.
Force coach Michael Foley and chief executive Mark Sinderberry have both spoken to O'Connor and his manager David Shand since then but would only be interested in re-signing him on strict terms, with his contract containing behavioural clauses.
Force players have said publicly that though they appreciate his talents, he would be accepted back only if he improved his off-field behaviour. He had addressed Force senior players before the airport incident.
O'Connor left the Force under a cloud two years ago when five months of contract talks broke down amid claim and counter-claim about his demands and after he made the infamous comment that a move to the Rebels would help his "brand".
He had upset some senior Force players with his attitude, but was said to have been emotional at their traditional end-of-season get together when he spoke about leaving.
His Wallabies future has been in doubt after the Australian Federal Police said he was escorted from the international terminal after being barred from taking a 5am Air Asia flight to Bali because he was intoxicated.
He was travelling with his girlfriend when an argument began over ticket arrangements. He admitted drinking but denied he was drunk and took a later flight.
He was stood down from the Rugby Championship by Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie for unacceptable behaviour and failing to demonstrate and uphold the behavioural and cultural standards expected by the team.Australian Rugby Union integrity officer Phil Thomson investigated the incident and O'Connor and his manager were told to present their case before last Friday.