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Les Kiss backs 'stubborn' O'Brien and 'sublime' Jackson to lead Exiles against Bath as Tullow Tank made captain


Sean O'Brien training with his London Irish team-mates

Sean O'Brien training with his London Irish team-mates

Sean O'Brien training with his London Irish team-mates

Seán O'Brien will captain London Irish on just his second appearance for the club against Bath tomorrow.

The former Leinster and Ireland flanker successfully returned to action after a serious hip operation in February, just before rugby in England came to a stand-still as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The Tullow Tank will wear the No 7 shirt at the Recreation Ground and will go head to head with one of the leading fetchers of the game in England ace Sam Underhill.

Given he has spoken this week about his ambitions of making the Lions tour next year, it's an early chance for O'Brien to show his wares and re-establish his credentials after an injury hit couple of years.

If he can get back to his best, the 33-year-old can be one of the best in the game according to head coach Les Kiss who previously worked with O'Brien during his time as an assistant coach with Ireland.

"I don't like to heap a lot of pressure on Seány, but he can take it," Kiss said.

"He's amongst the best I've coached, for sure. Even when he had his injury, he was still effective wasn't he?

"From what I've seen from Seán to date, the true test for him will be game on, game on.

"He'll probably play a little bit more here than he would have in Ireland. If he gets that right, if that can go OK for him then we're going to see what we've always known Seány is.

"He's so dogmatic, stubborn about what he wants to get out of the game for him and his mates, I have no doubts he can get back to that.

"For him, it's still a step by step process. It will be something that happens because everything else holds up and if it holds up in a good way there's nothing that can hold him back.

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"If he can get regular games, we won't overplay him for sure, but if he's playing well and his body is feeling good there's no doubt he can step back into a Lions jersey."

O'Brien won't be the only Ireland international on the pitch at the Rec, as Paddy Jackson starts at out-half.

The former Ulster No 10 has endured a torrid time with injury since joining London Irish from Perpignan, but Kiss believes he's ready to perform.

“It was unfortunate he got injured early in the year. He was going bloody brilliantly then," the Australian said.

“I’m not saying this is an ideal break for him, I think he would have preferred to play but he was just coming back from a hamstring injury. We now know that is totally in a good place now, touch wood.

“I don’t like to put pressure on guys but I know he is hungry and champing at the bit to deliver what he can for a bunch of blokes that he’s been working with for the last 18 months. He’s in good fettle.

"His skill set is sublime, his speed is looking fantastic. He’s driving the team around the park, he’s mentoring a couple of young guys we’ve got here. He's in his element at the moment.

“I’ve just got to say he’s in a good place but we know this game. One game can put you on your arse and then you’re trying to say, ‘well, what’s going on here?’ But he’s a resilient lad and he’s done exceptionally well.

“The players have bought into him and really the type of game I’d like the boys to play is around the strengths that he and Sean have, without a doubt.

"You throw the other guys we have here and I think some things can happen but there’s no doubt a lot of it will revolve around what Paddy does.”

London Irish are currently eighth in the Gallaher Premiership, seven points off the play-off spots with nine matches to play.

Those games will come thick and fast over the next seven weeks as English rugby returns with Harlequins v Sale Sharks at the Stoop tonight.

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