MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Wallabies backline star James O'Connor has confirmed his switch from the Western Force to the Melbourne Rebels, signing a two-year deal with the new Super 15 rugby side and the Australian Rugby Union.
O'Connor, 20, will end his four-year association with the Force to join Wallabies teammate Kurtley Beale at the Rebels, vastly strengthening the team which finished last in the Super 15 in its debut season.
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans on Saturday welcomed O'Connor's decision to re-sign with the ARU. The test fullback is the 18th current test player to extend his contract with the union this year.
Deans said O'Connor's decision "provides certainty, both for James and for Australian Rugby."
"While James has already made a significant impact in his career to date, there is a lot more that can be achieved and he is striving for that," Deans said. "The last three years have provided a good base. We are all going to be working hard to make sure that there is a lot more to come."
O'Connor was the second youngest Wallaby ever when he made his test debut off the bench against Italy at Padua in Nov. 2008 at the age of 18 years, 126 days. Only the 1957 winger Brian Ford (18 years, 90 days) had an earlier entry to the test arena.
His future has been the subject of speculation for some time, but Deans said it was characteristic of the young player that he took time to carefully consider all his options before reaching a decision.
"I never doubted his commitment to Australian rugby and the Wallabies — that shows in his everyday work," he said. "But James has been prudent in assessing all of his options, especially at state level, prior to determining what was best for him and settling on his future path. That is one of his qualities."
O'Connor became the first Australian player to score three tries is his run-on debut, when he achieved the feat against the Italians at Canberra in 2009. In 2010 he became the second youngest player after England's Jonny Wilkinson to post 100 test points.
Melbourne Rebels chief operating officer Steve Boland said O'Connor's signing was an important step forward for the young side.
"James is one of the most promising talents in world rugby and we are delighted that he is joining the Rebels," Boland said. "James' ambitions are very much in line with ours at the Rebels. We are in the process of building a culture that will help us achieve our goals both on and off the field."
The Rebels also announced the signing on Saturday of Western Force center Mitch Inman on a two-year contract and the re-signing for two years of hooker Ged Robinson.