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O'Connor reformed & ready for Wallaby return

Former Wallabies flyhalf Matt Giteau says James O’Connor is ready and fit to make his return.

FILE: Australian Wallabies captain James Horwill and flyhalf James O'Connor celebrate after defeating the British and Irish Lions in the second rugby test match, in Melbourne on  29 June 2013.

SYDNEY - Exiled Australia winger James O'Connor is a reformed character and ready for a return to international rugby in time for next year's World Cup, according to former Wallabies flyhalf Matt Giteau.

O'Connor had his Australian Rugby Union contract torn up last year when he was escorted out of Perth airport by police after a drunken row, the last in a string of disciplinary problems.

A lack of Australian Super Rugby suitors saw the versatile 44-test back head abroad to London Irish and then on to French club Toulon, where he linked with former Wallabies Giteau and Drew Mitchell.

"Myself and Drew were probably the first guys to say 'I don't know if we should sign him' because of the guy he was when we left Australia," Giteau told the Sydney Morning Herald in Paris.

"But he's a totally different guy, he's been phenomenal. He trains hard and honestly he's been really good.

"He's got to do all the right things to get himself in the best position for the World Cup squad, he's a huge talent and a great player. I think he's developed as a person."

O'Connor, who was the second youngest Wallaby in history when he made his test debut as a teenager, will return to Australian rugby next year with the Queensland Reds.

While he will not benefit from the usual contract top-up provided to high profile players by the ARU, Australia coach Michael Cheika said he had monitored O'Connor's form in France and had been impressed.

"He's playing really well," the coach said. "It's going to be a bonus for us to have guys like that to choose from, no doubt."

Giteau's own 92-test international career ended in acrimonious circumstances when he was left out of the squad for the 2011 World Cup by then coach Robbie Deans.

The 32-year-old now admits that he was "childish" in his reaction and said his spell in France, where he was named Player of the Year this season, had altered his perspective.

He thinks that being away from Australia might have changed O'Connor, who was once derided for talking about his "rugby brand", in a similar manner.

"I think he'd be similar to myself and when you're caught in that bubble, you get caught in your own self-importance a bit too much," Giteau added.

"Once you get out, you realise it's just rugby. He's certainly developed as a person, he's relaxed and integrated into the team brilliantly.

"The attention will be back on him in Australia (so) he's got to go in and suck it up."