Sunday 17 December 2017

O'Brien won't look past Wales

Ireland flanker has moved on from the blow of missing World Cup quarter-final

Seán O'Brien has moved on from what happened in the World Cup and is focused on the Welsh clash (SPORTSFILE)
Seán O'Brien has moved on from what happened in the World Cup and is focused on the Welsh clash (SPORTSFILE)

As political campaigns go, it wasn't much to write about.

Seán O'Brien was asked whether he would like to captain Ireland. He said it would be an honour.

That didn't go his way.

As World Cup campaigns go, there were forests denuded in order to facilitate the amount of paper required for ink.

That didn't go his way either.

The one-match ban the flanker received for a closed fist punch on pesky Pascal Pape was deemed lenient by some.

It didn't really matter as Ireland never made it as far as their primary goal, a first semi-final.

Ireland captain Paul O'Connell had his hamstring ripped from the bone. Peter O'Mahony's knee gave way to ligament damage.

Jonathan Sexton was ruled out by an adductor strain; Jared Payne by a foot fracture.

All of these men had to endure the terrible ordeal of looking on from the outside when their bodies had betrayed them.

At least they knew there was nothing they could do about it.


The difference for O'Brien was that a momentary loss of discipline cost him his impact.

He wouldn't be human if he didn't turn it over in his head back then.

"Well, I done what I did, but there's no point in me being hard on myself now.

"I need to learn from it and kick on," he said.

"It happened and things happen in games and it's something I've said I wasn't that proud of at the time, but I can't keep kicking myself over it.

"I probably did for a week or two afterwards but you have to look forward then and learn from your mistakes," he added.

When it comes to time in the green jersey, the Six Nations can't get here quickly enough.

It is part of the natural annual cycle in these parts, snugly tucked in between Christmas and Easter.

There has been a reference to the lack of confidence that comes from the fact that Ireland does not have a presence in the Champions Cup quarter-finals.

That cuts more than one way.

Maybe, just maybe, it will lead the Irish to load all their emotional and physical eggs into the Six Nations basket. Afterall, it hasn't done the Welsh any harm since the advent of the European Cup, at least from 2005 onwards.

"Well, obviously, we want to win and we want to win whatever we do whether that be here now with Ireland or back with our provinces," said O'Brien.

"When we go back, we want to win and every player is exactly the same."

Of course, Europe holds a place in Irish hearts that it has never enjoyed in The Valleys.

"Obviously, it's disappointing that we aren't in that competition, but we have one now that we're in and it's going to start this weekend, and that's what we want to do.

"It's about getting our mindset right and working very hard for each other."

The Tullow Tank does not foresee any ground-shaking change in style as Ireland hunt down a third straight European title.

Not even the way Ireland's defence was mutilated beyond recognition by Argentina has led to too much of a philosophical shift, despite the fact Les Kiss left and Joe Schmidt has temporarily taken over the specialist role.

"No, I don't think it has to be fundamentally changed," reviewed O'Brien.

"There were a few system errors at different times in those games and the odd missed tackle and I suppose that leads on to giving away yards and then not being able to get off the line. Once the fundamentals of our 'D' are in place and they're there every time, the system is sound.

"But if we miss a tackle or soak too much, it puts us under a lot of pressure."

The prospect of soaking in the tackle against Wales is not a good one.

As Ireland coach Schmidt pointed out last week, they had the biggest team at the World Cup in terms of an average of 106 kilos-per-man or 16 1/2 stones in old money.

"The first thing they bring is that huge physicality," accepted O'Brien.

"We always expect that from them through the years.

"They've a lot of attributes to their game. They have a good kicking game. They're good in the air. They've a big pack. They've a great back row. They've a lot of strings to their bow.


"The physicality one is one which they pride themselves on. It sets the tone for them."

While familiarity doesn't breed contempt, despite the story spun by Wales coach Warren Gatland as far back as 2009, all friendships will be put on ice come Sunday.

"They know us pretty well and we know them," uttered O'Brien.

"It'll be fairly similar fare come the weekend of what way they want to stop us and we want to stop them.

"It'll be a tough battle out there."

The Irish openside wouldn't have it any other way.

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