O'Brien: Ireland need to 'mind' young guns before throwing them in at the deep end
Published 24/03/2016 | 02:30
Sean O'Brien perhaps more than most Irish players understands the brute physicality of international rugby nowadays, so he is in a good position to judge what it takes to play at the highest level.
The Ireland flanker has had plenty of injury problems over the last couple of seasons and despite the fact that he is nearing a return to action, he has issued a firm word of warning about fast-tracking young players into the international set-up.
While Joe Schmidt ignored the clamour for Garry Ringrose (21) to be included in Six Nations squad this year, it is worth reminding that 22-year old Josh van der Flier was handed an opportunity to impress.
Ringrose's time will soon come and while it may not be in the bear pit that is South Africa, O'Brien believes that Schmidt's approach to blooding young players will hugely benefit Irish rugby further down the line.
The example of Handré Pollard making his Springbok debut as a 20-year old out-half tends to get bandied around a lot but O'Brien says that the comparison of Ireland's player pool to that of the southern hemisphere nations is unfair.
But nevertheless, are we generally reluctant to fast-track young players into the international fold?
"No, I don't think we are because we don't have enough of them coming through to be firing them in the deep end," comes O'Brien's reasoned response at Samsung's 'Shoot Like a Pro' launch.
"We're not like New Zealand or Australia. We have to mind these lads to a certain extent until they're physically able to keep going week after week."
Amid a discussion surrounding Van der Flier and Ringrose's international futures, Ireland's outstanding U-20s captain James Ryan is another name who crops up.
"I went to a few of the (U-20) games. He (Ryan) is going to be a huge talent. He's going to be a great player," O'Brien assures us.
"He is phenomenal for his age and one of the standout players of the whole tournament, but there has to be a process to bring him on to make sure he's playing rugby for Leinster and Ireland in 10 years' time.
"You throw him in now and he is finished in six years maybe."
O'Brien himself made his international debut at 22, the same age as Van der Flier, and although he has watched Ringrose develop over the last couple of seasons, he can fully understand Schmidt's thinking for not blooding him during this year's Six Nations.
"He's trying to develop him and mind his body. It's different for someone who's had a bit of experience, had a year under his belt," O'Brien says.
"If Garry goes into the Six Nations next year, we'll see a different Garry in terms of his physicality, in terms of his smartness.
"He will be a different player again. He will be a step up from where he is now. You fire him in there this year, I guarantee he gets hurt.
"You've got big centres running down his channel. They're going to run straight into him. Regardless of how talented you are, you're going to get hurt.
"It's definitely the right idea about what the coaches are doing with these young lads who are phenomenally talented. But there is a way of bringing them into the system.
"If you put Garry in this year, you're taking out an experienced fella like Jared (Payne) or Robbie (Henshaw) or Lukey (Fitzgerald), when he's fit, who has experience, someone who's very physical, someone who's smart.
"You're putting in a young fella because he's playing well for his club. Can he do it at international level? The thing about it is you don't know if he's able to do it at international level.
"You're taking a huge risk. He (Ringrose) will do it at international level. But I think it's the right thing to do with some of these very talented guys, make sure they're coming through the right way and are developed enough to last for Irish rugby."