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Fit-again O'Brien eager to get back in action starting with pre-season tie against Ulster


Leinster's Seán O'Brien. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Leinster's Seán O'Brien. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Leinster's Seán O'Brien. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Seán O'Brien has left Leinster coach Matt O'Connor in no doubt about where he stands on Leinster's pre-season tilt at Ulster on Saturday.

"I've stated already to Matt and the rest of the management that I want to play before we get into the league, so this weekend is the first opportunity I'll have to play and I want to play. So I'm hopeful that he'll let me play," he said.

The careful approach of the IRFU's Player Welfare programme cannot sit easily on O'Brien's restless broad shoulders. He lives for the adrenalin rush of playing the game.

"I've had a long pre-season which I badly wanted and I'm very pleased with where I am at the minute.

"We've a pre-season game this weekend and hopefully I'll be involved in that, and the league kicks off the following week.

"Please God, I can just get in now and get amongst it and that's what I suppose we've been waiting for all this long pre-season. All the hard work's done, so it's just about getting match-fit and getting playing."

The review of Leinster's first pre-season turnout against Northampton Saints told him what he already knew. There is a standing and growing queue of back-row forwards eager to make an impact.

"You look at these young lads coming through and they're so well prepared and conditioned and every year they are developing, so I've no fear of what's behind and coming up after us.


"Northampton had a full team last week and we had mostly an Academy development side out with a couple of experienced players. Still, at the same time, looking back at the video during the week, physically we were there and we played some nice rugby at times. It's exciting to know that we have that there."

"We've seen in previous years in the Six Nations that you need that quality and need that depth when internationals are away - to make sure you're not leaving points behind and continuing to keep the momentum going."

Jamie Heaslip was recently named Leinster captain. Flankers Shane Jennings and Kevin McLaughlin are consummate professionals. Ireland international Jordi Murphy made a giant leap forward last season.

Rhys Ruddock wrestled the number six jersey from the often-injured McLaughlin. Jack Conan won Man of the Match on his PRO12 League debut. It doesn't stop there. "Yeah, there's more, the likes of Dan Leavy and younger players. Josh van der Flier is flying too. You always know they're there," said O'Brien.

"They are learning from us. We know that if we are not performing there is someone else there to take our place; that's always been the way in the last five or six years in Leinster.

"It is only good that there is that much competition there. When they are ready to rock they are ready to go. We know that we can't afford not to play to our potential or slacken."

Not that O'Brien needs extra motivation. The new vice-captain likes to drive the environment.

"We have to set the standards, lead by example. We have to be ready to go every day, be the best we can for the younger lads coming up.


"If they see someone that they perceive to be a leader or a senior player in the squad not pulling his weight, it's not great for them to be looking at that type of thing."

Increasingly, the Tullow Tank has embraced the idea of leadership, not just in his game, but in his comments outside the dressing-room.

Heaslip holds the captaincy. Does O'Brien want it one day?

"It is not something I have thought a whole lot about. Down the line, you'd always love to captain your province.

"If it happens down the road so be it. I am very happy to back Jamie up and to back Rob up if he gets captain on certain days.

"I'm very happy to lead the team if I had to. There are a lot of leaders within our squad. Anybody could do it. You just lead by example."

No one does that better.