TOKYO, 23 Sep - Australia's James O'Connor believes the world of rugby should talk far more openly and extensively about mental health issues.
The playmaker, who excelled at outside centre in the Wallabies' 39-21 comeback win against Fiji on Saturday, returned to international rugby after a six-year absence in August, having struggled to deal with the pressures of elite-level sport. Now he is back, the one-time wonderkid of the game wants his message to be heard.
"I have rebuilt myself, faced my darkness," said O'Connor after the Pool D game. "Rugby is now my platform to inspire others. It is important that the message gets out.
"You see how much awareness is coming out. Men are starting to talk now, mental health has become so much more in the public eye. There is so much knowledge out there now. If you want to seek it, you can find it."
Now 29, O'Connor is speaking from experience. In the 11 years since he became the second youngest Wallaby of all time, he has been through the wringer. Always a lightning-quick thinker on the pitch, he has found it harder to make the right decisions away from rugby.
Three years after appearing in the green and gold for the first time, the Queenslander played a major role in Australia's run to the Rugby World Cup 2011 semi-finals. But despite starring on the biggest stage, O'Connor struggled to cope with the limelight.
A reported hangover caused him to miss the Wallabies' official World Cup squad announcement in 2011 and, two years later, Rugby Australia terminated the then 22-year-old’s contract when he was refused entry on to a flight in Perth for being under the influence of alcohol.
Two spells in Europe - either side of a brief return to Australia - followed, but off-field controversy was never far away.
The fact that he has found his way back and was critical to Australia’s second-half revival against Fiji in Sapporo, speaks volumes for his growing maturity.
'Giving us our purpose'
"I was down and out until I met this underground movement of enlightened men," O'Connor said, referring to Saviour World, a male-focused organisation committed to improving physical and mental health.
"I owe them everything. They are rebuilding us, giving us our purpose again. I try to push their message as much as possible. Anyone who is struggling with mental issues or depression or just might be a bit lost, seek it out."
The new approach has brought about a transformation that is certainly being appreciated by his team-mates – none more so than his Wallabies midfield partner, Samu Kerevi.
"I had conversations with James before he even came back (into the squad) and the way he has changed in his heart and the way he is, it's awesome," said Kerevi. "To have gone what he has gone through and then come back, I am really happy for him."
While O'Connor, understandably, reserves particular praise for Saviour World, it is mental health issues at large that he is most keen to raise.
"He never pushes anything on to others," said Kerevi. "But he's real passionate about it."