Relief was the biggest emotion for Ireland flanker Sean O’Brien after he made his international comeback in the recent RBS 6 Nations win over France.
The fit-again Sean O’Brien, whose Test return was delayed by a week due to a hamstring twinge, lasted the entire game against France – bar a brief respite when he was temporarily replaced during Rory Best’s sin-bin period.
“Yeah, there was probably some relief afterwards. Get the first one out of the way and you are laughing then, especially after the week before (missing out against Italy), so it was a relief to get through that workload and I was fine after it,” admitted O’Brien.
“You have done so much work but you are carrying a lot through those weeks (after the first game). The second one, to play an international you have to train hard all week and then go out and do it all over again. Then you get your break. It is difficult but it is something that is very well managed by our S&C staff.”
O’Brien gained confidence from how his body stood up to the bruising physicality of the victory over les Bleus, particularly the shoulder which saw him out for so long. It was his first appearance for Ireland since November 2013’s defeat to the All Blacks.
As he continues to get game-time under his belt, the Tullow man is raring to go ahead of this Sunday’s much-anticipated clash with England, a team Ireland have not beaten since the 2011 Championship.
There is so much that surrounds this fixture, but O’Brien insists the players do not get caught up in it. However, England’s performances against Wales and Italy so far have given the Irish squad the feeling that another step up will be needed at the Aviva Stadium this weekend.
“There’s history there, Ireland, England. I think the fans probably build it up to more than it is. The players are focused on getting their own things right. It’s another game for us, but Ireland against England…that does excite you.
“England are a way more complete team than France so they are going to be a lot better. They are more structured and have more about them. They are very dangerous, especially with the new wingers they have and the centre combination. It’s going to be a very tough day at the office again.
“I don’t know if we owe them one but last year’s game (a 13-10 defeat at Twickenham) I thought we had opportunities to win it. Little bits and pieces let us down. If we rectify them and make sure our detail and our game-plan are 100%, we will be in a good place.”
In O’Brien’s absence, Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt has brought a number of new faces into the side. The 28-year-old says that it was something the players discussed a few years ago, that they needed a stronger squad. The bench needed to be as good as the players in the starting line-up.
It has taken Schmidt a Championship-and-a-half to get there, but Ireland now have that. The strength of the bench was evident against France when forwards of the calibre of Cian Healy, Iain Henderson and Jordi Murphy were all introduced.
The depth of talent at England’s disposal has also been obvious in recent weeks as they are winning despite missing a number of key players due to injury. O’Brien acknowledges they are quality opposition, especially captain Chris Robshaw and fellow back rower Billy Vunipola.
The talismanic Robshaw put in 23 tackles against Wales and followed it up with another 18 against Italy. Alongside him, Vunipola had 14 tackles and 14 carries in Wales and added 15 tackles during the home win over the Azzurri.
“(Robshaw) has unreal work-rate. He goes about his business quietly. He is one of those fellas who doesn’t say much but he leads by example. That’s part of their culture and he is a good example of what they are trying to do,” admitted O’Brien.
“He represents them really well off the field. He mightn’t be the flashiest player but you don’t need to be flashy to work hard.
“He (Vunipola) is a type of fella that when he gets his dander up, he is someone that we’ll have to keep a close eye on. He’s obviously a big man and he’s able to carry ball.
“We’ve seen from that Munster game (against Saracens in January), the damage he can do when he gets a head of steam up. He’s a big part of where England are going to be going with ball-in-hand.”