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O’Brien Revels In Winning Return With Ireland

O’Brien Revels In Winning Return With Ireland

Back in the green jersey for the first time since November 2013, flanker Sean O’Brien made a successful return to Test rugby with a 70-minute performance against France which included 14 tackles.

Only for the second half sin-binning of Rory Best, during which Sean O’Brien made way for replacement hooker Sean Cronin, the Tullow man might have played the full 80 minutes and although he was ‘blowing’ and ‘sucking air at one point’, he felt good.

O’Brien’s 31st Ireland cap – won on his 28th birthday – was delayed by a week after he suffered a hamstring twinge just minutes before kick-off against Italy in the opening round of the RBS 6 Nations.

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He felt his honesty with Joe Schmidt when he injured his hamstring in the warm-up was needed. With it being very tight, he knew there was a chance he might tear it fully and he did not want to risk that. That disappointment was put aside as he ran out against the French.  

Speaking about the game, O’Brien admitted: “It was tough. There were a lot of big hits, you know, close-in that people may not have seen. It was a very physical game and there will be sore bodies on this side, and their side. We expected that off the French. There are some very, very big players and they really got stuck into us in the second half.

“There were a couple of (try-scoring) opportunities. We’ll assess them next week and see where we went wrong. The pleasing thing is we worked very hard for each other, kept the scoreboard ticking over and forced (French) errors. That was a big part of our game-plan this week.”

France set up a frantic finish when replacement Romain Taofifenua touched down to close the gap to seven points. But while les Bleus pressed for another try during the closing nine minutes, O’Brien felt there was no sense of panic among the Irish players.

Schmidt’s men kept their composure and trusted in their defensive structures, albeit with the statistic of 20 missed tackles by the final whistle being an obvious disappointment for the defending champions.

And while it was a definite step up from the performance against the Italians, another step up will be required for the visit of England in two weeks’ time with the sides currently neck and neck at the top of the table.

O’Brien added: “We wanted to go for it (in the final 20 minutes) but I don’t think our discipline was good enough today. I’m not sure of the penalty count but I thought it was over 10. That’s probably not good enough for the next day.

“That put us under pressure a bit, our own discipline, so we couldn’t really go after them. We definitely did want to go after them and play rugby. It was a very stop-start, slow game. I don’t think it was a good game to watch but the result was there at the end for us.”

Since losing 13-10 to England at Twickenham in last year’s Championship, Ireland have strung together nine wins on the trot, beating Italy and France (both twice), Argentina (twice), South Africa, Georgia and Australia.

The Leinster back rower insists it is not a case of the England game on Sunday, March 1 being a Championship or an opportunity to gain revenge for the narrow 2014 loss to Stuart Lancaster’s charges.

“We certainly won’t be doing that (building the match up as a Championship decider). England had a big win over Italy, and we know all about them from last year and what they bring to the table. We’ll have a look, and will start planning for England in the coming days.

“It’s not a case of revenge. If you go out looking for revenge against a team, you probably get bit on the arse. It’s a case of being composed, measured and making sure we have all our detail in place, and that we’re singing off the same hymn-sheet.”