Sport Rugby

Tuesday 19 November 2019

'We have more of a licence to play' - Sean O'Brien on the difference between Leinster and Ireland

Sean O'Brien enjoying greater freedom afforded by Cullen and Lancaster's free-flowing, heads-up game-plan

Sean O'Brien. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Sean O'Brien. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

After the claustrophobic confinement of Six Nations rugby, Saturday's free-spirited quarter-final at Lansdowne Road was like watching a different sport.

Many of the players played in both but last weekend the shackles came off. Leinster threw 15 off-loads, made nine clean breaks and beat 29 defenders as they made 791 metres from 190 carries against Wasps.

In the middle of it all was Sean O'Brien, who looked liberated by the experience, exploiting the extra space by making some big plays in a dominant performance that served as a reminder of his quality.

It doesn't bother O'Brien which way he's asked to play it, the end result is all that matters.

Although European rugby is often compared with Test level, the Tullow native says there is more margin for error in the club game, which alleviates the pressure and allows the players to take a risk or two more.

At Leinster they are being encouraged to do just that by Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster.

"You have more of a licence with the way we are playing now with Leinster than we do at international level," he said.


Leinster’s Sean O’Brien promoting the new lotto betting site, Photo: Morgan Treacy/INPHO
Leinster’s Sean O’Brien promoting the new lotto betting site, Photo: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

"The risk at international level is probably greater in terms of if the ball goes on the ground and they (the opposition) get the scraps it could be a score, whereas at the weekend we went to Wasps' end and they came back right into our 22.

"You recover a little bit easier at that level. It's just another notch down, but it's nice to go into that environment and know the way you are going to play and know that you are going to have a crack and see where it takes you.

"Different coaches have different game-plans. You stick to what they want to do."

Critics of Ireland point to a conservatism under Joe Schmidt that sees players tuck the ball under their arm when they might risk an off-load for fear of hearing about a mistake in the video review session.

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O'Brien points to the potential punishment of an error at the highest level and says there is no right or wrong way to go about your business.

"They are both effective, but the way we were playing the weekend is exciting rugby on the end of that," he said.

"We conceded a few soft scores from the ball going down on the ground and stuff like that you can really tidy up on, make sure you are nailing because if that is international level they are scores.

"It doesn't bother me, you have to be able to play the way the coach wants you to. I'm happy to do either. It's more loose the way we play with Leinster now."

Lancaster is getting plenty of credit, but the flanker says the province were moving to this less structured game-plan before the former England coach's arrival.

"It was probably going that way, but he's come in and he has an awful amount of experience," O'Brien said at the launch of lotto betting site.

"He has brought a new dimension to our attack definitely in terms of just playing, the unstructured stuff as well, the stuff that you face in games. That's the way we're training. He has added an awful lot to the set up."

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It has all fed into the return of Leinster to Europe's top table after a fallow year when they failed to get out of their pool.

While the coaches will take plenty of credit, O'Brien (30) says the squad have stepped up and taken more responsibility for their performances.

"The last few years weren't great, in terms of what we wanted to do in Europe, but I think our squad now is stronger than ever," he said.

"That's developed over the last number of years, a number of guys coming through and us probably taking a bit more ownership of the whole thing, the senior players… the structures are in place, a good, young coaching team there.

"Leo, Girv (Girvan Dempsey) and Fogs (John Fogarty) are relatively new to coaching, they've gained a lot of experience in the last year or two and with Stuart coming in it's just taken a bit of pressure off them and us as players, to give us that free rein of all out attack."

With Jamie Heaslip out injured, O'Brien found himself the senior man in the back-row as Leinster booked their semi-final against Clermont Auvergne on Saturday, with Dan Leavy and Jack Conan two shining examples of the stellar production line.

"I am enjoying that, so I am," he said. "Even in training, enjoying that as well. I've probably grown a little bit in the last year or two, my leadership with the younger guys.

"Discipline has been a big thing, I don't think I've given away too many penalties in any of the games I've been involved in. I'm trying to keep on top of that myself and manage the younger guys, but it's easy when they're that driven, they're full of confidence and nothing really fazes them.

"They're very good players. They can be unbelievable. You look at Dan there, he's developed incredibly quickly over the last year and he's only going to get better. It's the same with Josh (van der Flier) and Jack Conan, these guys are only coming into themselves now."

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