Saturday 23 September 2017

French pay scales could lure O'Brien

Sean O'Brien has plenty to think about as he ponders his future
Sean O'Brien has plenty to think about as he ponders his future
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

SEAN O'BRIEN has admitted his head could be turned by the lure of a big-money move to France.

The Leinster, Ireland and Lions back-row is in the final year of his contract and has been linked with Clermont and Racing Metro, who are believed to be offering in the region of €500,000 per-year for his services.

With the future of the Heineken Cup in the balance and the IRFU budgeting for a deficit this season as a result of poor ticket sales, there are major question marks over the union's ability to retain their top talent in the wake of increased interest from French clubs.

O'Brien, Jamie Heaslip and Conor Murray are believed to be major targets for Top 14 sides this year.

After Jonathan Sexton opted to leave Leinster and join Racing last season, the French clubs have been alerted to the possibility that more may be willing to follow.

O'Brien shares the same agent as Sexton in Fintan Drury and admitted that he is not among the top-earning Irish players, having signed his last contract in 2011. At that stage he had just one Ireland start to his name but went on to make a massive impact at that year's Six Nations and World Cup.

As one of Joe Schmidt's key players in the national set-up, the 26-year-old is in line for a bumper pay-day, but whether it comes at home or abroad remains to be seen.

"It is something I'd have to consider," he admitted in an interview with Newstalk.

"At the minute I'm in Leinster and Ireland and I love playing for both of those. That's where I want to be, but I need to look after me as well, look after my best interests, so it is a grey area.

"I don't know if there is a real threat (of a mass exodus), but it is something that is attractive to players and, when you're in a certain place for a period of time, you do want to test yourself in a certain league or in a different competition.

"It is something that you'll have ticked off at the end of your career and maybe some people are thinking that way.

"The likes of Jonny, for instance, he wants to go over there now and create a culture. He's not going to come home until he's won something in France."

O'Brien has missed the start of the season due to a broken thumb that he suffered before last year's Six Nations, but played on with through to the final Lions Test, in which he started and played a starring role.

He is set to return against Munster next weekend at Thomond Park, a week before the Heineken Cup kicks in.

"I need another week of more work under my belt, it has been a long process coming back," he said.

"I had a broken thumb the week before the Six Nations last season. We didn't say anything about it, there was a lot of hush-hush and I played away with it for the rest of the year.

Vindicated

"It was in a worse state when I came back from tour. I had a couple of pins put in and it is all good now."

Playing his part in a victorious Lions tour was a career high for the Tullow native who missed out on the first Test, but came off the bench in the second and started the third, decisive showdown in Sydney.

Of course, that match was overshadowed by Warren Gatland's decision to omit Brian O'Driscoll from the matchday 22, but O'Brien believes that decision was ultimately vindicated.

"It was obviously a difficult one for Brian to take, but being the man he is he took it and showed his character," he said.

"But it's the lads who didn't get a shout in any Test who I think about. Being left out the first day, not being involved was not a nice feeling.

"There are calls in rugby, calls coaches make and when it comes down to it, it was the right one at the end of the day.

"It was my first Lions tour and it was definitely a massive experience for me rugby-wise, going over for six or seven weeks and being with a new bunch of lads and taking in the whole culture over there, the Australian people.

"We did a lot of travelling, but it was one of those things I'll never forget, it was certainly worthwhile."

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