herald

Sunday 17 December 2017

Seán born for battle

O'Brien itching to get physical again on Connacht trip

The power of possession should never be underestimated. Put it this way, it will take a lot more than an Elvis Presley impersonator to distract Sean O'Brien from achieving his goals in the cut and thrust of professional rugby.

You won't hear the Tullow man talking about being in the 'form of his life'. Nor is he prone to speculation about making inroads into Declan Kidney's line up for the forthcoming internationals, or other such speculation.

Speculation is nonsense and lessons in life teach you not to dwell on the future. As meticulously and intently as he has rampaged through opposing defences of late, O'Brien is not prone to making big comments that he can't back up.

So when he talks to you, he does so in a calm and measured tone borne out of years of careful consideration and discipline.

When he talks about the love of playing the game, what he doesn't say is almost as revealing. Time away from the game has refuelled the desire and he's making up for lost time.

Since making his Leinster debut in 2008 his career has risen steadily. In recent weeks he has formed a potent back-row triumvirate alongside fellow Ireland internationals Shane Jennings and Jamie Heaslip, their leadership skills attesting to the fact that all three have led the side in Leo Cullen's absence at various times this season.

Not that you need to wear a big 'C' on the side of your arm to indicate your leadership credentials. O'Brien is one part of a larger group of individuals who let their deeds speak for themselves and it's a role that he relishes.

"I'm pretty happy with how things are going just now after what was a tough start to the season. You can never be complacent in sport though because there were a few aspects even out of our performance against Saracens which we weren't all that happy about.



physicality

"But when you look at an area like our physicality so far this season, this has definitely been a positive. It has been there every week and you can see the way in which the players are throwing themselves into tackles how much it means to each of us to play for Leinster.

"I think a lot of credit has to go to the coaches for how well they're preparing us each week. The shape of the team, especially over the last few weeks, has been clear and we all know our roles and what we should be doing."

Although he wasn't steeped in the traditions of football growing up, the sense of occasion of playing on English football's home was not lost on him.

"Wembley is an incredible stadium and to have the chance to play there is a great memory to have. There were a lot of distractions around the stadium that day," he reveals.

"Try as you might you can't just switch off from the music and the off-field activity and it built a sense of occasion. Put it this way, I was hardly tempted to get down and bust a move or anything! The focus for each of us is on the job in hand. As soon as the game starts, that's it. You're straight into the action and you want to get your first tackle in.

"I suppose it did hit me on Sunday when I was thinking over the game and the day itself that we were all part of an incredibly historic occasion. That kind of thing isn't lost on any of us."

As positive as he is of the new regime under Joe Schmidt, this weekend O'Brien will look forward to renewing acquaintances with the man who spear-headed an Ireland Under-20 Grand Slam winning title a little over three years ago.

"I know Eric (Elwood) well and he was a big influence especially in the early days of my career," O'Brien reflected ahead of Saturday's trip to Galway.

"He's a good coach for young players in that he encourages you; he's really passionate about the game and speaks his mind. I always found him very straight up and honest and it's clear that the Connacht players have bought into his ideas already when you look at some of the results that they have had so far.

"I've spoken to a few of the guys down there over the last few weeks and they are very positive about him which I think bodes well for Connacht going forward."

The 23-year-old estimates that Connacht are one of the most improved sides in the Magners League and expects no less than a hugely physical encounter this weekend.



proud

"They have a very proud record down in the Sportsground and that's something that we have to try and change. Connacht are improving year by year and they have a really talented group of players who are getting better week by week. I genuinely feel that they can beat any team in this league and that's something that we will need to guard against on Saturday.

"Yes we have won our last three games, but we won't be taking our foot off the gas now and as a group we have spoken about backing up what we did last week.

"We're expecting a physical encounter and that's something that we will relish. As a back-row and a collective forward unit, we're going to be facing a real battle. They deserve respect and we know that we will have to perform to a really high level to get the win."

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