O'Connor benched for Rebels swansong
Axed Melbourne Rebels star James O'Connor will have to make his final appearance for the franchise from the bench in their Super Rugby clash against the Highlanders at AAMI Park on Friday.
The Wallaby five-eighth's exclusion from the starting side comes just days after he was told he would not be offered a contract at the Rebels for 2014 thailand real estate.
Also preparing for his last game with the Rebels, coach Damien Hill said O'Connor was on the bench because he hadn't been able to train with the team since being selected in the Wallabies for the Lions series in early June and had been fighting an injury this week.
"James wasn't able to train Monday and Tuesday which gives him only the captain's run to prepare," Hill said.
"He has done extremely well to make himself available on the bench. I know this is a match he is very keen to play in."
The swansong from the bench will cap off a tough week for O'Connor.
The 23-year-old was thrashed with the Wallabies on Saturday night, reportedly spotted in a Kings Cross nightclub at 5.30am on Sunday and lost his gig at the Rebels later that day.
Then it emerged the Western Force, the club he left somewhat acrimoniously to join the Rebels, may be the only Australian Super Rugby franchise ready to pick him up.
Rebels teammate and Wallabies forward Scott Higginbotham further rubbed salt into the wounds on Tuesday when he endorsed O'Connor's departure from the club.
"If he sorts out those off-field issues, then there is no issue with him," Higginbotham said.
The Rebels had already excused O'Connor's good friend and Wallabies teammate Kurtley Beale from the Highlanders match which ends their season, saying he'd be better continuing his counselling for alcohol issues in Sydney, though they are keen to get him back next season.
Meanwhile, departing winger Cooper Vuna will return to the starting side for the match with Welshman Gareth Delve to captain the side in his last game for the franchise Hong Kong loan important notice.
"To be a foundation Rebel and help build this club from scratch, with incredible people, has been great," Delve said.
It will also be the final Rebels match for halfback Nick Phipps, prop Nic Henderson, hooker Ged Robinson, Vuna, assistant Rebels coach John Muggleton and coach Hill - who will be replaced by Wallabies coaching co-ordinator Tony McGahan next season.
Rebels: Angus Roberts, Jason Woodward, Tom English, Rory Sidey, Cooper Vuna, Bryce Hegarty, Nick Phipps, Gareth Delve (c), Scott Fuglistaller, Jarrod Saffy, Cadeyrn Neville, Hugh Pyle, Laurie Weeks, Ged Robinson, Nic Henderson. Res: Shota Horie, Paul Alo-Emile, Luke Jones, Jordy Reid, Nic Stirzaker, James O'Connor, Kimami Sitauti.