Rugby: Melbourne Rebels dump James O'Connor

The Melbourne Rebels have sensationally dumped Wallabies playmaker James O'Connor. Photo / Getty Images.
The Melbourne Rebels have sensationally dumped Wallabies playmaker James O'Connor. Photo / Getty Images.

The Melbourne Rebels have sensationally dumped Wallabies playmaker James O'Connor in a move designed to keep national teammate Kurtley Beale at the Super Rugby franchise in 2014.

In a major turnaround, once keenly-sought O'Connor now faces the prospect of being forced overseas unless his former team the Western Force ask him back to Perth.

The Rebels made a strategic call to cut the 22-year-old after a less-than-fruitful two-year stint blighted by injuries and an inability to settle in one position.

Melbourne officials confirmed on Sunday they want to retain Beale and believe they would provide a better environment for the Wallabies fullback to overcome his alcohol issues away from close friend O'Connor.

The NSW Waratahs are also keen to have a refocused Beale back in Sydney and the latest development sets the two clubs on course for a fight over his services.

The Rebels' shock decision not to offer a new contract is another major blow to O'Connor less than 24 hours after the Wallabies crashed to a shattering 41-16 series-deciding loss to the British and Irish Lions in Sydney.

Chief executive Rob Clarke said the Rebels were entering ``the next phase of development''.

As star utility O'Connor's brash ways and occasional ill-discipline upset senior Wallabies and affected his popularity in the game, Melbourne were concerned their chances of attracting quality recruits could be hampered.

Off the field, he has found himself in strife at times, most recently when he and Beale were photographed at a fast-food outlet at 4am just four days before the must-win second Test in Melbourne.

Having long coveted the Wallabies' No.10 jumper, O'Connor was on Saturday night left pleading his case to remain in the Test team ``anywhere'' after besieged coach Robbie Deans' experiment with him as playmaker backfired.

O'Connor improved through the series and scored Australia's only try in the third Test to receive post-match praise from Deans.

However, it was apparent from the outset the 22-year-old's elusive ball-running game was better suited on the right wing or inside centre as he struggled to take the right options as chief playmaker.

Deans' days are rapidly coming to an end and potential successors Jake White or Ewen McKenzie would be unlikely to stand for lax standards that allowed both O'Connor and Beale to escape punishment.

McKenzie would sweep his Queensland Reds playmaker Quade Cooper back into No.10 position while White would be more likely to team his Brumbies playmakers Matt Toomua and Christian Lealiifano.

Possibly knowing that a change in coach could spell doom for his own immediate Test future, O'Connor played down his desire to wear the gold No.10 jersey after the painful loss to the Lions.

"I've said I want to play 10 but I just want to be part of the team,'' he said. ``I want to be on that field.

"I'll play wherever I can.

"I would like to nut down a position, maybe 10, maybe somewhere else.

"I can look myself in the mirror and say I gave my best shot for Australia.''

-AAP

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