O’Connor went into a self-imposed exile last year after being dumped from the Wallaby squad by coach Ewen McKenzie and had his contract torn up by the Australian Rugby Union over his ongoing alcohol-related transgressions.
The 23-year-old, who has played 44 Tests for Australia, found a new home at English Premiership outfit London Irish and has been a regular feature since his Premiership debut against Northampton Saints on November 3.
London Irish Director of Rugby Brian Smith admitted he is doing all he can to keep hold of O’Connor, after the talented Wallaby back’s masterclass helped down Worcester Warriors on Saturday.
O’Connor scored his first Exiles try and kicked 17 points to pull his new side further clear of Worcester at the foot of the Premiership – extending the gap to 14 points and lifting them above Newcastle Falcons.
The 23-year-old arrived at the club in October on a deal until the end of the season and while he is already being linked with a host of European clubs, Smith hopes he will stay where he is.
“James is a world-class player and I think you saw that,” he said.
“He’ll go back [to Australia] in January 2015 and play in rugby in Australia and for the Wallabies in the build-up to the World Cup.
“He’s 23 years of age and he should be playing for his country.
“He put his hand up today and controlled the back-line. We knew they were going to pepper him with high balls and he also managed to score a try so we’re really happy with him.
“He’s fitting in well. He’s part of our strategy group that we have – he heads up the kick chase and counter-attack squad. He’s coming from the cutting edge of international rugby and he’s got some good ideas.
“We’re hoping to keep him until January 2015, but there are some French clubs throwing ridiculous money at players. For Toby Flood to leave Leicester, who are one of the wealthiest clubs in this league, shows a lot. The real big money is in Japan and France.
“These guys aren’t making decisions on a hundred pounds or even ten thousand pounds – French clubs are offering double what we can. We’ve put our best foot forward and the biggest deal that I’ve seen to try and look after him but France can blow us out of the water if they wanted to.
“It comes down to the player and what they want to do and James has his heart on playing for the Wallabies again. He’ll start that in Jan 2015 – we’ve got him for the rest of this season and, if we’re really fortunate, the start of next as well.”
The defeat left Worcester Warriors 11 points behind their nearest rivals, now Newcastle Falcons, at the foot of the table. And director of rugby Dean Ryan admitted he was expecting more from his side after their recent improvement.
“We didn’t manage the game well enough. With the weather conditions as they were we knew there wasn’t a huge amount of rugby to be played,” he said.
“We knew it was about managing field position and managing the set-pieces and we came second in both. We were driven in the lineout, which created pressure, and we lacked discipline which gave them field position.
“It’s really disappointing because that’s Worcester of six or seven weeks ago. I thought we had cleaned up our act but today that didn’t come through, which is really disappointing at such a crucial time.
“We knew how big today was and I don’t think we managed that very well and we can’t hide from the pressure that Irish put us under. There’s no point trying to dress it up, we didn’t cope well enough.
“With the weather how it was it puts a magnifying glass under three or four parts of your game and we probably lost two out of those three today, which effectively led to the result.
“We’re aware that the longer it [run of defeats] goes on the harder it gets but we’re not giving up.
“We’re pretty tight as a team and we’re really disappointed with that performance. We’re aware that we’ve got Leicester in the next Premiership game at Sixways and we’re going to give it a real crack.”