There’s nothing like a first taste of international camp to sharpen the focus for the rest of the season.
For Jimmy O’Brien, last week represented a significant milestone in his career as he trained with Ireland for the first time.
A productive few days may not have ended in a debut against Italy, but if Andy Farrell’s track record is anything to go, should O’Brien maintain his excellent Leinster form until the end of the season, the Kildare man won’t be far off travelling to New Zealand on the summer tour.
O’Brien is highly rated in Leinster, not least because he can play across the backline. That versatility is a major string to his bow and while he agrees with Stuart Lancaster’s assessment that he is best suited to full-back, O’Brien has the small matter of trying to shift one of his best mates in Hugo Keenan from the Leinster and Ireland No 15 jersey.
“I’m still pretty happy to fill in,” O’Brien said. “I think I’ve done OK pretty much in every position I’ve played in, I think I’ve adapted well, so I’m happy to play anywhere. Maybe if I played a position really bad, they’d stop playing me there!
“But actually, it was like that at the end of last season, I was playing left wing and there were two games where I felt I was terrible and I was like, ‘Don’t play me there again’, but I’ve played there this season and I was delighted. They can play me wherever they want at this stage.
“Probably the one that comes most naturally to me is 15. But I don’t really mind playing on the wing or even in the centre.
“On the wing playing with Hugo, we’d swap and stuff because I’m left-footed. So there is a lot of time where we swap and interchange. But I’d say that 15 is the one that comes most naturally but I’ve played pretty much all of them so I’m not too worried.”
Farrell will surely value that versatility, particularly when it comes to selecting a World Cup squad next year.
Even if O’Brien has a lot of ground to make up, the manner in which he has excelled in the Leinster set-up suggests he would be well suited to handle what would be a major step up.
“I was chatting to all the coaches individually and they were glad to have me in,” the 25-year-old said.
“They were like, ‘Don’t do anything different, just do what you’re doing’ and they’re very encouraging and great to talk to.”
O’Brien also had the chance to link up with fellow Eadestown native Tadhg Beirne.
“My parents know his parents well enough,” he added.
“There is nothing in Eadestown really, there is a church at the main crossroads and he’s about 300 metres one side of the church and I’m 300 metres the other side.
“There are a few lads, (Munster scrum-half) Rowan Osborne, I would have grown up with him, we were in junior infants together and grew up the whole way, played GAA.
“Another lad Diarmuid Kilgallen, he’s in Connacht and he just got a senior contract and he’s literally between me and Tadhg. Funny that a small village can produce a few professional rugby players.”
Meanwhile, Ireland internationals Ross Byrne, Will Connors and Max Deegan have signed contract extensions with Leinster.