Saturday 1 October 2016

Sean O'Brien gives blunt response to comments that CJ Stander should replace him with Ireland

Published 23/03/2016 | 14:29

No. One word and two letters that perfectly tell to someone that they are talking rubbish when you ask a question they don't have time for.

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Like when you ask a former Lions test back row if he takes any notice of an ex-Ireland coach saying he should be dropped from the national team for the tour of South Africa.

Sean O'Brien didn't pick a good time to get injured, with CJ Stander excelling in his debut Six Nations campaign and Josh van der Flier also acquitting himself admirably in his first two international appearances. Add that to Peter O'Mahony's somewhat imminent return and the form of Jamie Heaslip and you have a back row that is harder to get into than Coppers on All-Ireland final day.

On Against The Head on Monday night, Eddie O'Sullivan opted for a back row of Stander, O'Mahony and Heaslip to take on the Springboks this summer, meaning no place in the first XV for O'Brien, normally a nailed on starter.

Did O'Brien take any notice of the former Ireland coach saying he should be replaced, we asked?

"No," O'Brien said, with a steely gaze that sufficed as his elaboration.

O'Brien's health in recent times has counted against him, with the Tullow Tank struggling to take the field through a combination of injuries over the last three seasons. In fairness to Stander, he has done an uncanny SOB impression during his Ireland career so far, carrying ferociously while maintaining a bulldozing presence at the breakdown.

Stander's efforts - and that of the other back rows - haven't gone unnoticed by the stricken O'Brien.

"He [Stander] did what he has been doing for Munster over the past few seasons," O'Brien said.

"He carried extremely well. He has kind of led the team around a little bit in terms of getting that extra yard and he has taken on that responsibility. As well as Josh [van der Flier] getting his two games and doing well, Jamie [Heaslip] was as consistent as ever and Tommy O'Donnell in the last game, he did brilliantly."

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While the Irish back row is massively competitive, the battle for places at Leinster is only a tiny bit less gruelling. With seven internationals for Leo Cullen to choose from, it will be almost as tough for O'Brien to cement his place at provincial level as it will be to reclaim a green jersey.

For a start, the 22-year-old van der Flier has played exceptionally well in O'Brien's usual number seven jersey throughout the year, and the veteran international was quick to praise his friend and rival for his stellar season.

"I'm not surprised at all," O'Brien said about van der Flier's international elevation.

"For me, I knew he would be involved in the Six Nations at some stage. He has probably been the most consistent seven out of all the provinces this year and I knew that couldn't be ignored by the Irish management."

One of the many injuries that has afflicted O'Brien recently was an inner ear problem before Christmas that impacted his balance. It was the sort of ailment that jarred when you first read about it but O'Brien explained that it wasn't quite as bad as it sounded.

"It wasn't like that at all, it was just a bit of haziness," O'Brien responded when asked whether the balance issue caused him to fall over.

"A lot of people in general, not even sports people, have it. It's just a balance issue when you try to move quickly or get up off the ground. It was probably back from a knock I took previously and it was sorted after four or five weeks."

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