| 17.4°C Dublin

O'Brien will do talking on the pitch


Leinster's Sean O'Brien. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

Leinster's Sean O'Brien. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

Leinster's Sean O'Brien. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

THERE is a strong argument that the captaincy was the only merit that kept Sam Warburton ahead of Seán O'Brien for the Lions Test selection for the first two Tests in Australia.

The southern hemisphere countries rate the Tullow man almost as highly as they do their own. It seems the power-brokers of French rugby are also of the same mind.

So much so that O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip have both been flagged as targets for French clubs, now that Jonathan Sexton has made the move.

It is no coincidence that Heaslip and O'Brien share the same agent as Sexton – Fintan Drury – and his style of bargaining the best deal for his clients is to work through the media.

It worked for Sexton, at least financially. Heaslip is the best-paid player in Irish rugby. O'Brien has every right to suggest he is a player of comparable value to the Leinster and Ireland number eight.

O'Brien is not comfortable with the direct interest in his value. "Obviously, the negotiation process has started, I'm not dealing with it directly," said the 26-year-old.

"The powers that be will sort that out in good time, hopefully, but you know I've a full year of rugby ahead of me with Leinster as it stands and that's what I'm concentrating on."

The exit of Sexton has also caused contract discussions to be brought forward. No bad thing for the players or the clubs. Whatever about the Irish Rugby Football Union.

"You can see people are aware that other clubs are going to start approaching players so they want to get it dealt with as soon as possible," said O'Brien.

"I think, in the last year or two, people's contracts have been dealt with around Christmas time, that type of area, so maybe it's a little earlier this time but that's no harm, I don't think."

When it comes to taking care of the business of rugby, O'Brien is a market leader as a runaway train with a growing influence over what happens at the breakdown.

The buckling of Warburton by injury for the third and decisive Lions Test prompted coach Warren Gatland to give the nod to O'Brien over Osprey Justin Tipuric.

Now, the two contrasting opensides will meet sometime after high-noon on Saturday for a duel that will test reputations to the 80th minute.

The respect for his opponent is unimpeachable. "I'm sure Tipuric will be causing a nuisance like he always does, that's the type of player he is," O'Brien said.

"He's one of the best players around. He's very smart. He's a real good footballer as well. He has good hands, he can tackle and he can also carry a bit too.

"For a relatively small fella, he's strong as well. Once he gets on the ball, he's hard to shift. So he's a very, very dangerous player.

They look to him a lot to upset opposition ball. It will be no different this week."

Like most players, O'Brien does not like watching the action when he knows the reason he is paid so well is to be part of it.

He had to sit out the start of the season as part of his recovery from a broken thumb and the Player Welfare Programme for Ireland's elite players.

O'Brien was relieved to get back to work against Munster last Saturday night as the helter-skelter nature of the fixture tested his stamina for 64 minutes.

"It was tough for me because I hadn't done much rugby and hadn't played any minutes. It was good to get time under my belt. But, it was frustrating, both the fact we didn't get the result and the fact that we didn't play well," he said.

"We'd be disappointed about the aspects that let us down against Munster. But, we can correct that this week. If we're able to fix these problems and enjoy training, it'll go better for us on Saturday hopefully."