Monday 23 October 2017

O'Brien determined to make the most of Lions opportunity

7 June 2017; Sean O'Brien of the British & Irish Lions prior to the match between Auckland Blues and the British & Irish Lions at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
7 June 2017; Sean O'Brien of the British & Irish Lions prior to the match between Auckland Blues and the British & Irish Lions at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Ruaidhri O'Connor in Christchurch

Sean O’Brien has reserved some of his best performances for the All Blacks. Problem is, he’s never beaten them.

As he begins his journey towards what he hopes will be a starting Test jersey later this month, the Tullow Tank conceded he’d swap his strong displays for a victory.

The Ireland flanker makes his first start of this tour against the Crusaders on Saturday.

In 2013 he was phenomenal in that epic Test that saw Ireland fall just short, he missed the Chicago win and two weeks later he was Ireland’s leading light as New Zealand claimed their revenge.

He has replaced Brian O’Driscoll as the Irish name on the lips of Kiwi players, which is a mark of respect in itself.

But he’d trade it all to beat the men in black.

"I’ve had some of my best days," he said of previous All Black games.

"I obviously enjoy playing against the best team in the world and that's what they've been for the last number of years. You can only look forward to that.

"It's nice to get that, but I'd rather beat them than be on a few losing teams to them. Hopefully I get that opportunity to play against them."

After the defeat to New Zealand in Dublin last November, many fans and pundits were upset with the borderline nature of some of the world champions’ tackling.

To O’Brien, it was just par for the course.

"They're like that every day," he said.

"I think they have a massive physicality, but I think we matched that at times. Obviously they got stuck into us but we got stuck into them too.

"There was a lot of mistakes... if I hold that ball going around the back of the lineout, the game is completely different. You can't afford to not take those opportunities when they're given to you against the All Blacks because they'll come back to bite you later on."

He missed the Soldier Field win, but he believes that there are lessons to take from that famous day.

The Lions have shown very little in attack so far, but they have spoken about the need to score tries if they are going to succeed against the likes of the Crusaders who they meet on Saturday.

"They were just relentless and they attacked from the off that day," he said of Joe Schmidt’s side in Chicago.

"They're different players to what's here, so it's a different ball game. You can't really relate to that.

"They will have a different team this time as well. But you take some learnings of how to stay in the game and there's a lot of things that went well that day for Ireland and the same on the day England beat them.

"Discipline was very good, they played smart, put them under pressure rather than put yourselves under pressure. A lot of things like that. But playing against them and attacking is the big thing.   

The Tullow Town’s Cup party will go on the road to New Zealand later this month, although O’Brien fears the trophy itself may be locked in his house and may not make the trip.

It’s been a great year for his club, but he wants to end his own disrupted campaign on a high.

"I think it's an incredibly strong squad," he said of the Lions.

"You're going to have to fight tooth and nail for every little bit on this tour. There's a good buzz around.

"Kiwis in general embrace the whole thing, it's probably bigger than it was in Australia but it's been brilliant so far. People have been very friendly, the environment as been really good and lads have bonded really quickly.

"They (the Super Rugby teams) are obviously in form but it's not in your control what they've done so far.

"What's ahead of them is in our control and we'll prepare for those games as best possible and make sure our attitude is spot on.

"They are all obviously dangerous teams who play a good brand of rugby. We can't worry about what they have done, but worry about ourselves more so."

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