Wednesday 25 April 2018

Ireland have learnt a lesson from slow start - O'Brien

Flanker confident of timely return with Six Nations in view, writes Ruaidhri O’Connor

Leinster’s Sean O’Brien at the launch of Life Style Sports’ ‘Own the Jersey Own the Seat’ competition. Photo: INPHO/Morgan Treacy
Leinster’s Sean O’Brien at the launch of Life Style Sports’ ‘Own the Jersey Own the Seat’ competition. Photo: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

A slow start cost Ireland dearly in last year's Six Nations and Sean O'Brien believes Joe Schmidt's side have learnt their lesson from Murrayfield.

Losing to Scotland cost the 2014 and 2015 champions the momentum they needed as they were forced to chase results and ended up finishing a distant second to England.

With another round of inter-provincial games to come before concluding rounds of European pool stages, it is easy to forget that the Six Nations begins in less than a month.

Ireland start with a tough clash away to France under new coach Jacques Brunel and after their sluggish opening last season, O'Brien is expecting better.

"I think so," he said when asked if the lesson had been learnt.

"You'd expect us to be in a good place.

"We're picking from a stronger squad again, it's building nicely and there are younger guys coming in again who will add value.

"The provinces have been tipping away nicely so we'll get in there into that first week, it will be an exciting place to be, it always is. Everyone ramps it up a gear when you get in there. We've a good challenge first up, it will be nice to start.

"We should be beating them if we want to go places. You know we have to start well. We know from last year what happened if you don't start well. So again, we've learnings from that, we'll make sure we hit the ground running."

O'Brien admits the change of coach will make Les Bleus harder to analyse even if former Italy boss Jacques Brunel has little time to implement a new plan.

"You don't know if they're going to put a bit of structure on things or if they're going to stay unpredictable," he said.

"What are you going to get, like? You know you're going to get physicality and you're going to get big boys running at you. It might do, we'll leave it to the coaches to figure that one out.

"I don't think there's much between any of the international teams to be honest with you.

"Some of the games we lost last year were our own fault, the first one obviously.

"Fine margins, I think if you look at England, they ground out some wins but you know they played well at times when they needed to, they did the right things and they probably evolved a little bit that way.

"They've been a consistent team, a big squad and he (Eddie Jones, head coach) has them playing a style of rugby that everyone knows what's going on."

Having sat out the Christmas inter-provincial games with a hip problem, O'Brien is confident that he'll return to the Leinster team for Glasgow on Sunday week.

And while Dan Leavy and Josh van der Flier have been tearing up trees in his absence, the Lion is not concerned about his place in the pecking order.

"I'm comfortable enough in my own skin," he said with a smile.

"No, as I said already, you'd expect them lads to do that, especially those two. Every game they've played, they've played really well.

"It's healthy competition. I know when I am fit that I can mix it with them all so that's what I need to be - fit."

From the outside, the Leinster set-up looks to be as healthy as it has been since the glory days under Schmidt and while O'Brien says it is a different set-up now, he is excited by what is happening under Leo Cullen.

"It's a different time and a different squad and probably a bit of a different culture but it is certainly an exciting place to be right now," he said.

"We've put ourselves in a good place and the next few weeks will probably define our whole season. A lot of good work done but a lot more to do.

"You have lost a load of lads that created that culture, so you bring a load of younger lads in and how do they know what that culture is? They haven't experienced it, developed it.

"Now it is a bit different. The culture we have now is one they have been involved in, added to and evolved. They have grown up with it the last year or two so it is theirs. It is not Brad Thorn's or Nathan Hines's or Leo's or any of those lads.

"That was the culture we were involved in then and it has to change as new players come in or they won't know what it is about."

He was once the junior man in that dressing-room, but now as a leader alongside Johnny Sexton, Rob Kearney and Isa Nacewa, O'Brien has a big role in guiding the young guns through.

"We learn as well but we probably learn a little bit quicker because of our experiences," he explained.

"Or we should do. We should know going over to the likes of Clermont how to beat them over there. Transferring that to the rest of the group is the challenge for us.

"We know we need to hit the ground running in a place like that and not give them a kick-start and then nearly win a game. That's the difference.

"A lot of the younger guys this year have learned an awful lot and they are in a place now where they are humming."

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