O'Connor stood down, faces uncertain playing future
RUGBY UNION: James O'Connor will find out next week if he has a future at Toulon after he was suspended today following his arrest for using cocaine during a night out in Paris.
O'Connor, 26, met club president Mourad Boudjallel and was told he was suspended for a week, meaning he will miss this weekend's crucial match against Brive in France's Top 14 league.
A further meeting has been scheduled for next week to give the club time to make a final decision on his future.
He is out of contract in July and had been in negotiations with Toulon to renew it, although was also thought to be in talks with several Australian clubs.
O'Connor and former All Black Ali Williams were held in jail cells next to hardened criminals following their arrest and while Williams was charged with the more serious charge of buying the cocaine, O'Connor was charged and fined for "intent" to consume and also allegedly tested positive to the drug.
Early reports translated Boudjellal's comments in Le Figaro as saying he would "not renew" O'Connor's contract. That may still occur but it is understood Boudjellal actually said he didn't want to to "prolong" speculation about O'Connor's future at Toulon, and that the 26-year-old may still re-sign at the champion French club - albeit for a heavily reduced salary.
Boudjellal even appeared to show some sympathy.
"I'll talk to him. He's a 26-year-old kid, I'm not here to destroy him. But I am not there to promote it (drug taking) either. So I will not do anything. It's a complicated story," Boudjellal said.
"He is a kid who has problems. Whatever decision I would take, I will consider everything, (I) do not spoil the kid.
"Let's say that for (his) extension of contract, it has rekindled the debate. We are not going to prolong it.
"We're already going to try to manage this season. But I do not want to overwhelm him."
There is speculation in France Boudjellal is willing to keep O'Connor but will use the drug charges and penalties as a reason to offer a cut-price deal only.
O'Connor's options elsewhere may be slimming down after the weekend. He would not be of any interest to Australian teams, and Japanese clubs are sticklers for good behaviour.
The UK may be an option and other French mid-tier clubs would likely overlook the off-field issues to get O'Connor's superb talent in their stable.
Boudjellal said he was disturbed by the increasing accounts of cocaine use among professional athletes, and said he didn't want illicit drugs to become part of rugby's famous "third half" celebrations.
"What shocks me most is that we have a Saturday game that is very important against Brive, which could make us find ourselves four or five points from sixth place, so with a big stake." Boudjellal told Le Figaro.
"And I have a player who was in a nightclub in front of the Arc de Triomphe at three o'clock in the morning with I do not know how many grams of alcohol in the blood and who, in addition, is consuming cocaine. After O'Connor, he did not kill anyone. He's hurts himself, but I will not defend cocaine use."