Saturday 24 February 2018

Sean O'Brien 'couldn't care less' about transfer gossip

Tullow Tank brushes off French link and puts all his energy into ensuring autumn success

Ireland's Cian Healy (behind) arrives for training on a golf buggy driven by team-mate Jamie Heaslip (right) alongside Eoin Reddan
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

LIFE in the eye of the storm appears to suit Sean O'Brien.

Whether it's facing a wall of would-be tacklers or dealing with being the most in-demand Irish player around, the Tullow native seems able to put the fuss to the back of his mind and perform.

He has played just three games this season, but already he has put in the type of performances that saw him rise from 24th man to starting Test Lion last summer.

While much of the focus this week has surrounded the health of Paul O'Connell and Johnny Sexton, O'Brien's success in getting over the ankle injury he suffered three weeks ago has been at least of equal importance.

If Ireland are to beat Samoa, Australia and New Zealand in the coming weeks, they will need their openside to be at his best.


That he, Peter O'Mahony and Jamie Heaslip have started the season on form is a major boost for Joe Schmidt ahead of the November internationals and the Ireland coach's ability to gel his back-row together will go a long way to a successful series in the coming weeks.

With the giants of French rugby circling around the 26-year-old and Leinster and the IRFU desperately hoping to hold on to their man, there could be plenty of reasons for O'Brien to get distracted, but he is setting no deadlines for getting his future sorted out and insists his sole focus for the rest of the month is on success with Ireland.

"To be honest, I couldn't care less about it at the minute," he said yesterday. "I am concentrating on these three games, on these three weeks ahead of me. That stuff will look after itself in good time.

"There's no point in me worrying about it or anyone else worrying about it. I have a full year to play regardless of what happens. That is what I want to do.

"I don't have a time limit on it. As I said, I have a full year. I have three massive games over the next three weeks and I will be back at my province then for another couple of big games. That is my priority. I certainly won't be letting it affect me in anyway."

O'Brien trained yesterday for the first time since hooking up with the Ireland camp and said his ankle held up well.

Leinster coach Matt O'Connor insisted the injury only kept him out of the Connacht clash as a precaution and that he could have played if needed.

The Carlow man brushed it off. "It happened in the captain's run before the Castres game. I kinda rolled it. It was a bit stiff that morning, but I didn't think much of it and played away. On Sunday then it flared up a little bit, so that's what happened," he explained.

"I was very happy with my form. I was tipping along nicely at the time. I suppose I would rather have been playing up until now, but I probably only missed one game and, hopefully, I will make up for that this weekend."

The last eight days have seen O'Brien and his Leinster team-mates reunited with Joe Schmidt as the new regime get up and running.

All eyes will be on Ireland's ability to adapt to the new coach's wishes and get up and running quickly.

Expectation has followed the New Zealander into international rugby after his provincial successes and, while O'Brien is not expecting things to be like-for-like with Ireland, he has noticed some similarities already.

"I'm not sure if it is exactly like what we had at Leinster with Joe, but it won't be a million miles away from it," he said.

"We want to play a real fast game and keep things as simple as possible as well, not to complicate it too much. That's the great thing about last week's prep.

"This week everyone is clearer about what they want to do. We just have to go out and execute now and make sure our own jobs are looked after and that what he asks of us is done.

"Clarity and detail have been massive things with him since the first week we have had with him.

"He said that from the word go and he has been on our case every day about clarity and knowing your role and not making any mistakes.

"He is a perfectionist that way and it is good to have someone there who is making sure your standards are as high as possible as well as the senior players and everyone knowing what he wants motivates yourself not to let everyone else down.

"There's a big onus on players, I suppose, that we're performing in training and that will lead into games, hopefully."

O'Brien's life at openside has been a work in progress since he first relocated there from No 8, but his stint competing with groundhogs Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric in Australia appears to have brought him to the next level.

Against Castres, he dominated the breakdown in a way he hadn't appeared able to do before and his ability on the ground will be a major string to Ireland's bow against Samoa, Australia and New Zealand.

"I wouldn't say I have zeroed in on it recently, but it is something that I wanted to get more into my game because the breakdown is such a big area over the last couple of years and it is probably going to be the main area in any game, especially at international level where everything is so competitive," he said,

"I suppose I said to myself at the start of the year that I need to make nice clear decisions as quick as I can. Last year at times I think I was wasting myself a bit at rucks that I probably wasn't going to get to the ball, so I am trying to make better decisions and keep playing the way I am playing."

If Ireland are to succeed over the next three weeks, they will need O'Brien's new focus to be as sharp as it was before he rolled his ankle.

Amid all the talk of new regimes, there is an imperative to get off to a winning start. O'Brien summed it up, saying: "Winning is the priority".

With all the noise that surrounds him he is maintaining his focus and that will be music to Schmidt's ears.

Irish Independent

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