Sale Sharks release James O'Connor as he chases Australia World Cup spot
Last Updated: 02/07/19 3:17pm
Sale have released James O'Connor from his three-year contract so he can return to Australia and fight for a place in their World Cup squad.
The 28-year-old utility back, who won the last of his 44 Wallabies caps in 2013, has signed a contract with Rugby Australia and will reportedly play for the Reds in Super Rugby next season.
O'Connor joined Sale from Toulon in 2017 and made 31 appearances during his two years at the club.
"James returns to Australia with the club's full blessing," said Sale director of rugby Steve Diamond.
"He is an exceptional talent and we will be sorry to see him go but he has a dream to play for his country again and I will never block anybody's opportunity to do that, especially at a World Cup.
Without the experience at Sale I would not have been able to grow and find my true self in a chaotic period of my life.
"Since arriving in Manchester two years ago James has gone to extreme lengths to improve himself both mentally and physically, and has been successful in both areas.
"After chatting at length, we agreed the time is right for him to continue his ongoing journey back home.
"I would like to thank James for his commitment and contribution to the vision at Sale Sharks and wish him well in the future.
"I look forward to seeing him progress further in his career, both on and off the field."
While at Toulon in 2017, O'Connor was arrested for cocaine possession during a night out in Paris with former All Black Ali Williams and the French side declined to extend his contract.
But he has stayed out of trouble since joining Sale later that year and the sacking of full-back Israel Folau has left Australia head coach Michael Cheika with a vacancy in his Wallabies backline.
"I have nothing but positive words to say about my experience at Sale Sharks," said O'Connor.
"They took me in and gave me an opportunity at a time in my life when I needed support and needed a chance to right my wrongs. In Manchester, I was given a foundation to do that.
"I will be forever grateful to Steve Diamond, all the players and coaches, and the Sale Sharks supporters who have all helped facilitate my journey back to full power, without the experience at Sale I would not have been able to grow and find my true self in a chaotic period of my life.
"It has been an honour to represent the club until the very end and I would again like to thank Dimes and everyone involved in my ongoing journey. The club is in a fantastic position and have made some great additions to the squad over the summer and I wish the Sharks every success for the future."
Phillips extends Sale stay
Meanwhile, Sale second row James Phillips has agreed a one-year contract extension to remain at the club until 2021.
The 31-year-old joined the club from Bath last summer and made 30 appearances in his debut season at the AJ Bell Stadium.
"James has been a revelation since signing last year from Bath," said Diamond.
"He served his time well at his previous clubs and has really come into his own since joining us.
"He has been consistent throughout the year across his entire game and has really improved our go-forward within the pack."