O'Brien 'ahead of schedule' as he eyes return for play-offs
LEINSTER star Sean O'Brien has hinted that he could return to action in time for the Pro12 play-offs next month.
The Carlow man was originally expected to miss the remainder of the season when he picked up a shoulder injury over Christmas, while his recovery from surgery was complicated by an infection that saw him lose about a stone in weight.
However, the back-row revealed recently that his rehabilitation is ahead of schedule and with Leinster expected to secure a home semi-final in the Pro12, he could be ready to return for the province on the weekend of May 17-18.
"(The play-offs) are a long shot but if things went really well this week and the next two weeks, who knows?" O'Brien said.
"No one can really tell at the minute until I start doing more and more stuff, whether that be hitting pads or what not in a month's time.
"As I said a while ago, I was ahead of schedule and it has come on a lot and it's feeling pretty good at the minute. At the same time I don't want to rush back and have a set-back."
O'Brien revealed that the next fortnight is critical to his hopes of seeing action again this year and will determine if he'll be available for the squad that travels to Argentina this summer.
"I don't know what Joe's plans are (for Argentina) or anything like that," he said. "I will have to speak to him about that and see what he's thinking if I am fit. I am presuming he is going to rest some lads going over there to keep them fresh for next year.
"I'm into my second week now of hard training. I'll know where I am in two more weeks. I'll probably know then exactly when I'll be coming back.
"I've just been doing a lot of running and strength and conditioning, trying to get back into reasonable shape to give myself the best chance of getting back at some point, either at the end of this year or in the summer."
Toulon – the team for whom O'Brien almost signed – ended Leinster's Heineken Cup dreams, but O'Brien insisted the squad have already refocused on winning the Pro12.
"They're obviously a class team and they played very well that day. I don't think we showed up though. There were still only two scores in it at the end regardless of how they played. It would have been a different story if we just had played a lot more.
"We dropped a lot of balls and made a lot of mistakes. We didn't come off the line hard enough. There were so many things wrong that day.
"That's done and dusted now and we've got to look forward and try to win the league."
O'Brien was speaking at the announcement that TV3 have won exclusive Irish rights to broadcast next year's Rugby World Cup in England.
Ireland will play their pool games in Cardiff (twice), Wembley and the Olympic Stadium in London and, while the tournament hasn't always been kind to us, O'Brien believes that Joe Schmidt's men are well placed to become the first Irish side to reach the semi-finals of the competition.
"It has been the thing that we have lacked consistency when we've got to the business end of the season and in the World Cups.
"But I think from a player's point of view we have a squad, we are growing a squad, that can potentially go to that place – and further.
"It is really exciting to be thinking about it. If we were to go back a year or two with the squad we would have, I don't think we would be strong enough to get to a semi-final.
"I do think the way we are developing as a group and the players that we have and everything that is coming through – and hopefully there will be another few coming through – we are going to have a very strong squad if everyone is fit."