Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal. Photo: Dan MullanToulon owner Mourad Boudjellal says troubled former Wallaby James O’Connor has “problems” and will be suspended for testing positive to cocaine but does not want to “prolong” the process of deciding his future at the club.
Early on Wednesday, it was announced that O’Connor had been stood down for a week by the club following the incident that resulted in O’Connor and former All Black Ali Williams being arrested for an alleged drug deal outside a Paris nightclub.
The 26-year-old met with Boudjallel on Tuesday (local time) and was informed of the decision with his future to be decided by the Top 14 club next week.
Reports translated from French newspaper Le Figaro quoted Boudjellal as saying he was not going to “renew” O’Connor’s contract, however the actual word he used was “prolong” and in the context of contract negotiations.
“Let’s say that for its extension of contract, it has relaunched the debate. We are not going to prolong it,” Boudjellal told Le Figaro. “We’re already going to try to manage this season. But I do not want to overwhelm him.”
Boudjellal’s interview suggests he has not a made final decision as to whether O’Connor will depart Toulon, but made it clear he was unhappy with the incident that may have spoiled any chance of a Wallabies comeback.
“He is a kid who has problems, who is 26 years old,” Boudjellal said. “I will not kill him either. Whatever decision I would take, I will consider everything. I’m not here to destroy him.
“He will not escape a lay-off, of course. Then we’ll make a decision. There are two different cases. On one side we have a 36-year-old (Ali Williams) whose career is over, and on the other a 26-year-old whose career, I hope for him, is not over.
“James made a mistake, and it is difficult to defend. What shocks me most is that we have a Saturday game that is very important ??? and I have a player who was in a nightclub in front of the Arc de Triomphe at 3 o’clock in the morning with I do not know how many grams of alcohol in the blood and who, in addition, consumes cocaine.”
Boudjellal said he would make it his mission to get to the bottom of what happened as well as suggesting that cocaine was being preferred by players in the French provincial competition to alcohol.
“I still want to know who knew the dealer,” Boudjellal said. “I really feel, and it is only me, that in many clubs, cocaine has been invited a little in the festive environment. And that’s a bad thing. We had the alcohol stage, now it’s a step up because cocaine is festive, it disappears easily. It has to stop. So I want to know if it is an isolated case or if there are other players who like to party.
“It’s my personal feeling. I do not have any proof, but I feel that it has been a bit of a challenge in the rugby world because alcohol is perhaps not enough. I do not know.
“I would remain surprised if this is an isolated case.”
Meanwhile on Tuesday night, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika weighed in on the issue on Fox Sports’ Super Rugby: Kick & Chase programme, saying: “It’s disappointing for him.”
“(But) we’ve got to take the football out of it for a second and say ‘he’s obviously a good lad deep down. Otherwise he wouldn’t be in this game.
“If he wasn’t, he’d be off doing other stuff. He wouldn’t want to play footy, be in a team sport, have the camaraderie around him being in that.
“So there’s a good lad in there somewhere and you’ve just got to leave the footy out of it for a minute and let the guy get the assistance he needs to get back personally first of all and then see what happens with that with footy.”