Wallabies star James O’Connor says he was in a ‘rat pack’ with Buddy Franklin and Dustin Martin
Wallabies utility James O’Connor has revealed he was once a proud member of a sporting Melbourne ‘rat pack’ that includes AFL superstars Buddy Franklin and Dustin Martin.
Speaking on the RugbyPass podcastthe 31-year-old said his time playing Super Rugby with the Melbourne Rebels in 2012 and 2013 was a colorful experience.
Living close to Chapel St in Melbourne, the gifted athlete spent a lot of time socializing.
He was often joined by Rebels teammates Kurtley Beale and Danny Cipriani, as well as two of the biggest names in AFL, then-Hawthorn forward Franklin and up-and-coming Richmond midfielder Martin.
“It was an interesting time, we had a lot of fun,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor (right) said he and AFL superstars Buddy Franklin (center, with actress Ruby Rose, left) and Dustin Martin went to town together when he was playing with the Melbourne Rebels
‘Melbourne is different from the Gold Coast’ [where O’Connor grew up] as well as Perth…I was used to having beaches close by.
“In Melbourne it was about where you went at night on Chapel St, that was the scene.”
O’Connor revealed another time where Cipriani left his stunned — after squatting in his house.
“A friend came over and they asked me where was the best place to sleep,” he said. ‘I said the guest room… and they told me someone was already there!
“So I went down to the lower part of the house and saw all of Danny’s stuff…his bags and clothes.
Martin – pictured with a chopstick in hand at Melbourne’s Mr Miyagi restaurant, where he was charged with threatening a woman with the implement in 2015 – was one of the ‘rat packs’ according to O’Connor
‘He (Cipriani) told me he thought I wouldn’t mind! He had been there for a few weeks, I had no idea.’
Currently on the books of the Queensland Reds, O’Connor has also been candid about the litany of off-field dramas that have ravaged his career after making his debut for the Wallabies as a raucous teenager.
Up front was the moment when he suffered a seizure on a bus trip home while playing for French club Toulon.
A combination of alcohol, prescription drugs and a head knock during the game were the cause of the ordeal.
A second attack further on was the wake-up call that O’Connor needed to get his life back on track with professional pundits – though Toulon teammate Dylan Armitage feared the worst after the first incident.
“I was in a pretty dark place, I did everything. I was just playing and burning the candle at both ends,” O’Connor said on the podcast.
“I was still playing rugby, but I (went out) a lot, didn’t sleep much because we were on a road trip and flying here and there.
“I got a little knock on the head after we played one match and on the team bus we just got in (alcohol)… I ended up having a seizure on the bus and it was hectic.
“I can’t remember so it wasn’t that hectic for me, but it was pretty hectic after that. I think people were traumatized.
“I remember Dylan Armitage saying ‘I thought you were dead’ it was f***ed so yeah it was pretty hectic and that was the first wake up call when I was like ‘OK, I gotta curb it a bit’… then it happened again and I was like, ‘OK, f***, okay’.
O’Connor made his debut for the Wallabies at age 18, and he admits fame led him astray
When James O’Connor thinks back to his time with the Melbourne Rebels, the 31-year-old shakes his head
Richmond’s Martin became a bona fide superstar of the game after O’Connor left the Melbourne Rebels
Then-Hawthorn striker Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin was one of Melbourne’s most eligible bachelors when O’Connor hung out with him
“It happened again, yes. It wasn’t a knock on the head this time, they did the full exams and everything, tested me for epilepsy, but literally I was just burned out.
“The first I think was a mix of everything – drinking a lot, taking a lot and patting my head and the second time I was just so tired, the candle burning at both ends and it just happened.”
O’Connor then made headlines in 2017 when he ended up in a Paris jail cell with Toulon teammate and former All Black Ali Williams – who was allegedly caught buying cocaine on a night out.
“It was rough, it was bloody terrifying because no one there spoke English,” he recalls.
‘The first night, someone s**t on their hands and rubbed it all over the wall, yes relentlessly. That was another low point experience.’
After rediscovering top form at Sale, O’Connor returned to Australia and signed a two-year deal with Queensland Reds and Rugby Australia. The deal included strict conduct clauses.
He remains in the mix to be in the Wallabies squad for the World Cup in France next year.