O Connor talks give Force reason to hope
O'Connor talks give Force reason to hope

The Western Force are growing more confident they will retain young Wallaby James O'Connor.

With the decision on his future imminent, O'Connor had a one-on-one meeting with Force coach Richard Graham yesterday.

After lengthy discussions at the club's Perry Lakes offices Graham said there were "good indications" about O'Connor's future.

"Our discussions were about rugby," he said. "We discussed the rugby program because at the end of the day it is the rugby program that will be the thing that holds him here.

"We discussed the squad, who we've got staying, who we are looking at and where we are looking at going.

"James is fully engaged in what we are doing. He is keen for the club to have success, that showed in how bitterly disappointed he was with the result from Sydney on Saturday."

Graham has said previously that he believes a group of friends and the fact O'Connor had established himself as one of the best young players in the world while at the Force would convince him to stay.

O'Connor, now 20, joined the Force as a 17-year-old and is coming off a two-year $1.2 million deal that would have been further topped up by product endorsements.

He has repeatedly said his decision would be based on rugby, what is best for his game and not money.

He agreed with the Force earlier in the season to focus on his long-term future only during this bye week for the club to avoid obvious distractions.

"James has handled himself well through the process. It has not been a distraction," Graham said.

The Force, with only three wins and a draw from 11 games this season are desperate to keep O'Connor but have competition from Queensland Reds, Melbourne Rebels and ACT Brumbies.

There are some big money offers, particularly from the privately-owned Rebels.

Force chief executive Vern Reid met O'Connor's manager David Shand in Sydney on Saturday before the Waratahs match.

O'Connor's father, who has a strong influence on his son, was in Perth the previous weekend when the Force played the Crusaders.

Reid said the club was well aware of O'Connor's value, not just on the field, where despite the Force struggling for form he is Super Rugby's leading scorer with 156 points, but as an asset to promote the club.

O'Connor has to inform the Australian Rugby Union when he has made a decision so his new Wallaby contract, that has also been the subject of protracted negotiations, can be finalised. The ARU had not been contacted last night.

The West Australian

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