Thursday 8 December 2016

Patience the key as O'Brien nears return to full fitness

Published 26/10/2016 | 02:30

Stuart Lancaster, Sean O'Brien and Mick Kearney were at Leinster Rugby head office yesterday with a picture of Liam Hagan, a lifelong Leinster fan, who was born with EB (epidermolysis bullosa). Leinster Rugby charity partners DEBRA Ireland and had nominated eight-year-old Liam from Monaghan to be a Leinster mascot at the Connacht Rugby game this Friday evening. Tragically Liam passed away suddenly only two weeks ago. Liam's place will now be taken by his best friend and cousin, Adam McCormick who will walk out at the RDS in Liam's honour. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Stuart Lancaster, Sean O'Brien and Mick Kearney were at Leinster Rugby head office yesterday with a picture of Liam Hagan, a lifelong Leinster fan, who was born with EB (epidermolysis bullosa). Leinster Rugby charity partners DEBRA Ireland and had nominated eight-year-old Liam from Monaghan to be a Leinster mascot at the Connacht Rugby game this Friday evening. Tragically Liam passed away suddenly only two weeks ago. Liam's place will now be taken by his best friend and cousin, Adam McCormick who will walk out at the RDS in Liam's honour. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

While this certainly isn't uncharted territory for Sean O'Brien, the lessons that he has learned when returning from injury down through the years has meant that his comeback this time around has not been rushed.

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That said, Leo Cullen admitted that O'Brien was "pissed off" when he was replaced at half-time in Sunday's defeat in Montpellier.

Stuart Lancaster's take on the substitutions of O'Brien and Johnny Sexton echoed that of his head coach.

"Obviously they were disappointed because they are competitive and that's what makes them the good players they are. So when they are told they are coming off they are not happy," Lancaster said in UCD yesterday.

O'Brien has been down this road before but he felt fit enough to play on and with so many big games coming up in the next month, you can understand his reasoning for wanting to get minutes under his belt.

Temptation

The 29-year-old has now played 80 minutes (40 for Leinster 'A' and 40 last weekend) since tearing his hamstring in the Six Nations last February.

While the temptation to rush himself back into action might have been there, the severity of the injury has meant that he has had to bide his time. Being hauled off last Sunday didn't sit well with him however.

"I think it's a natural reaction to any player getting taken off," O'Brien insisted.

"You never want to leave the field, obviously. Especially in a game like that where it was tight. You'd hope you could add something to it.

"I think it's just a natural reaction. I think every player that gets taken off, unless you're being taken off for medical reasons. It's just the way it is. That's a decision coaches have to make as well.

"I was told that I was going to be managed. I would have stayed trucking for another while if I could. I suppose it was a heavy pitch and a physical game. It was probably a smart thing to do at the time. The management and the S&C staff have looked after me really well.

"I didn't make too errors or anything. I was probably still a little bit rusty in some of the technical stuff but I was happy enough."

In O'Brien's eyes, last weekend was another stepping stone on his way to rediscovering full match fitness. He is almost certain to start against Connacht on Saturday and should he come through that unscathed, he will hope to have done enough to force his way into Joe Schmidt's plans.

The Tullow native however insists that his primary focus is on Leinster and not Ireland.

"I'm not expecting anything, to be honest. I haven't thought about it (being included in the Ireland squad to play New Zealand next weekend) really. I want to play this weekend to get more game time and see where I am after that. That's the priority. There's been no conversations about that.

"I have more to do. I'll keep working here and adding what I can to the set-up here. I think I need a full game. Hopefully, that's what I will get this week.

"I think with another good run-out, I'll be very close to match-fit then. I've always said, it always takes two or three games to get up to speed again, especially after a long lay-off.

"I have to be a bit patient with myself as well and not get frustrated or do silly things on the field.

Challenge

"The mental challenge is probably just doing what you can do on the field without being silly, not trying too hard going into game.

"It is about getting yourself back to that place where you want to get to.

"It is very easy to go out and get tired and be sloppy and give away stupid penalties coming back.

"It is just about managing myself as best I can, getting more minutes. The more minutes I get, the better I get."

O'Brien's comeback has coincided with Peter O'Mahony's return from the knee injury which he picked up against France in the World Cup last year.

The competition for places in Ireland's back-row is as rife as it has ever been with CJ Stander and Josh van der Flier both very much in the mix as well.

O'Mahony is ahead of O'Brien in terms of minutes on the pitch but a strong performance at the RDS on Saturday would propel the Leinster man right to the forefront of Schmidt's plans.

"I have spoken to Pete. I am in contact with Pete a good bit," O'Brien said.

"It looks good for him. He's got that time under his belt that he needed. He was back a few weeks before I was. It's good for him and it is good for Irish rugby.

"The two or three hit-outs sharpens you up a lot and gives you that confidence again as well to play the way I play."

There is no other player in the country that plays the way a fully-fit and firing O'Brien does. He has played the waiting game, now he is hoping his patience pays off.

Irish Independent

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