Thursday 19 July 2018

Fear factor will drive our improvement, insists O'Brien

Sean O’Brien models the new Leinster rugby jersey
Sean O’Brien models the new Leinster rugby jersey
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

For a few hours yesterday, Sean O'Brien was back in blue as he modelled Leinster's new jersey.

Whatever his thoughts on the new design, the flanker will be hoping he won't have to wear it again until November as Ireland occupies his and his colleagues' thoughts for the foreseeable future.

On Saturday, the Tullow Tank cranked into gear and went to work on the Scottish ruck, giving an impressive display to mark his first time as captain of his country.

He was a standout performer in an otherwise underwhelming display and, while the players are not due back in camp until Sunday and have yet to face the dreaded review, he has already had a look to help prepare himself for Joe Schmidt's clinical analysis.

The players can expect defence and first-up tackles to feature prominently when the lights are dimmed and the coach takes to the floor.

"I looked back on the game myself on Sunday afternoon and we were very stand-offish," he reflected.

"We didn't really go after them enough. We did at times in the second half, but it was definitely a poor reflection of what we're capable of in defence. They're all fixable things obviously, very simple missed tackles."


For those in the side looking to impress, this is not an easy time as they look to catch Schmidt's eye during the limited time available and in their first games of the season.

However, the number of tackles Ireland missed has become a concern, with Wales and Scotland both crossing for three tries each.

O'Brien concedes that players are under pressure, but reckons the defensive chinks can be ironed out in time for the main event in a month's time.

"It doesn't really matter who you are in the squad or what position you are or the status you have, everyone wants to hit form going into a World Cup," he said.

"That's why you have to play well, as well as being that little link in the chain to make us play well.

"Of course, there are lads who would have been disappointed with some stuff. I missed a tackle myself on the winger at one stage, a one-on-one.

"It is a little bit of accuracy. It is a little bit of rustiness from some of us. They are all easily fixable. There was nothing major that stood out.

"We just have to come off the line a bit harder and make our first-up shots."

Schmidt's review sessions have become the thing of legend.

"There is a fear there that if you make a mistake you might not get a second chance," O'Brien conceded.

"That's his philosophy. That's the pressure he has on us to perform and make sure we do our role as best we can.

"If you don't do that, you know you're going to get some kind of reaction from him. It's good for player know what's expected of them. If they don't produce that, they've no excuse if they're not selected or they're on the bench whatever it may be.

"If you are performing and if you're doing your job, you're always in with a shout."

While others might prefer to switch off during their week away from camp, O'Brien is keeping a close eye on the game and watched Ireland's pool rivals France's performance against England closely, particularly that of the impressive Louis Picamoles on his return.

Although the French pack dominated England during the second half, there was very little new to fear from Les Bleus who Ireland meet in their final pool game on October 11.

If the players are allowing themselves think that far ahead, they're not going to say so publicly.

"It's exciting but there's still a lot of work to be done over the next month to get there, first and foremost, and leave ourselves in the best possible shape in terms of our preparation," O'Brien said.

"We're under no illusions that the next couple of weeks are very important to going over and starting well in the tournament. If the next few weeks don't go that way, we'll be struggling getting over there.

"We've had seven weeks now of hard work. We've two more games to go and then we're into the tournament, so it'll ease off after these two games. It'll be a little bit easier in terms of our load and how fresh we'll be going into the World Cup.

"It's good that we get a break (this week) and get back to our province as well, keep in touch with what's going on here.

"The rest of the squad see us training as well and it's good for a freshness point of view to get out of Carton, get out of camp and away from the bubble for a few days. It keeps things fresh and you look forward to going back in then."

Irish Independent

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