Wednesday 26 June 2019

'You can't have a bad game, there's too much competition' - Sean O'Brien ready for first Leinster start since April

Seán O'Brien. Photo: Sportsfile
Seán O'Brien. Photo: Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

He has danced this dance too many times before to feel any sense of novelty. Returning to play is just part of the cycle of Seán O'Brien's rugby-playing life.

On Saturday, the 'Tullow Tank' made his latest comeback against Connacht, replacing Rhys Ruddock after 26 minutes of a gritty, physical win in Galway that tested his lungs and torso in equal measure.

This weekend he is expected to start against Munster at the Aviva Stadium, his first start since April when he faced Benetton only to re-injure the shoulder he damaged against Scarlets a month previously.

An operation followed and the normal nagging doubts crept into his mind after he followed a superb Lions tour with a write-off campaign as Leinster and Ireland conquered all before them in his absence.

Dan Leavy nailed down the No 7 shirt for club and country and, since making his own return, Josh van der Flier has been in excellent form.

The 31-year-old is aware of the challenge the young guns are presenting, but he is also confident that he can match all-comers if he is at his best.

"You always back yourself obviously," he said.

"When I'm as fit as I can be and in as good form as I can be, I back myself to play.

"But, you know, there's so many quality players as well, you have to be playing very consistently, you can't have a bad game.

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"There's potentially eight or nine lads in the country who can play in the back-row at international level - so that's what you want, it's healthy.

"It's a massive competition here, Dan and Josh, Max (Deegan), Jack Conan, Rhys (Ruddock), they're all international players, so it's good that they're driving each other and helping each other in a way, by talking through different combinations and what not, it's a good place to be.

"Everyone would back themselves when they're at full fitness."

As he warmed up on the touchline before replacing Ruddock, who injured his hip, O'Brien removed emotion and doubt from the equation.

"It's fit in first, get into the game as best I could. I wasn't thinking about much else, to be honest," he recalled. "There is no point in going on and running around like a headless chicken.

"There's a few bits and pieces that need to be tidied up, get them done first.

"I just keep talking and giving energy to the lads around us. You've ticked all those boxes before you get back to play.

"It was a case of just getting into it. It was a tough game, so it was. They are a good attacking team, so it was a good game to be involved in, to get a good hit out, a good blow out.

"It was great to get an hour under my belt. I wasn't expecting that at all obviously.

"But, I said to myself in the changing-room, 'someone could go down here early on'.

"I just had to slog my way through it. It was grand. I got a second wind and grew into the game, I thought. I was happy enough.

"The body feels great, I hope to get more minutes this week and over the next few weeks."

This weekend marks the traditional moment the season kicks into gear as the big two gear up for Europe with a blow out at the Aviva.

If he's selected, Joey Carbery will face his former team for the first time but O'Brien is not concerned about a man who is so familiar with the way Leinster do business running the Munster show. "He'll know a good bit about us obviously, and we'll know a good bit about what he can do too," he shrugged.

"If he's playing 10 he's playing 10 and if he's playing somewhere else, he's playing somewhere else.

"We'll see when they pick their team I suppose. Yeah, he'll know a lot about us but nothing I'd say Munster don't know already about us.

"One man won't dictate a whole game, so it will be about negating him if he does play.

"Everyone knows that he has great footwork, but you have to defend together, it's like going out on any day.

"Nothing will change for us, we'll stick to our defensive system and make sure none of their backs get a one-on-one hopefully."

O'Brien's focus is firmly on the job at hand and, after being stopped from doing that job for so long, he's delighted to be in the thick of it once more as the season heats up.

"It's an important time of the year the next few weeks," he said. "But you don't look too far ahead, we've learnt in the past not to do that."

Irish Independent

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