Monday 20 November 2017

'O'Brien was the spearhead of their physicality' - All Blacks express surprise as Leinster man is left at home

Sean O'Brien
Sean O'Brien

Ruaidhri O'Connor​ in Chicago

Ireland touched down in Chicago last night without the man New Zealand believe is their "physical spearhead" after Joe Schmidt decided to leave Sean O'Brien out of his 27-man squad.

The Tullow native was one of four high-profile omissions from the travelling party, with Munster captain Peter O'Mahony also deemed too short on game-time to make the trip, while Iain Henderson has not recovered from his shoulder problem and Paddy Jackson was a last minute withdrawal due to "personal reasons".

The Ulster out-half had been expected to travel, but instead Joey Carbery is set to be named on the bench for Saturday's clash as cover for Johnny Sexton, whose hamstring will be put to the test over the course of 80 minutes if the game remains in the balance.

Both O'Brien and O'Mahony are still playing their way back to fitness after long absences due to injuries incurred on international duty last season, and Schmidt has opted for caution, perhaps with the second Test against New Zealand in two weeks' time in mind.

CJ Stander will continue at blindside flanker, with Jordi Murphy and Josh van der Flier vying for the openside berth. Murphy was held back from provincial action along with 14 other players last weekend, which could be an indication that he will hold on to the No 7 jersey.

It is expected that O'Brien and O'Mahony will line out for their provinces this weekend, and they may be included against Canada on Saturday week.

Henderson misses out due to a shoulder injury and his place alongside Devin Toner will go to Ultan Dillane or Donnacha Ryan. Connacht's Dillane was not involved against Leinster last weekend, while Ryan started against Ulster.

All Black flanker Jermome Kaino was surprised at O'Brien's omission.

"He's had a few consecutive games with Leinster and and was looking pretty good," he said. "When you look at 2013 when we just beat them, O'Brien was the spearhead of their physicality and their contesting at the breakdown."

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