Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt admitted he was ‘gutted’ for Sean O’Brien, following the most recent injury setback for the experienced back rower.
After missing out on Leinster and Ireland’s successes during a disrupted 2017/18 campaign, Sean O’Brien had regained both fitness and form in recent weeks. He has already featured for Leinster on five occasions this season, leaving him just one short of his appearance tally in the previous year.
This led to an Ireland recall for the current GUINNESS Series and he was selected at openside flanker for Argentina’s latest trip to the Aviva Stadium yesterday. His last international cap was also against the Pumas twelve months ago, but a broken right arm ensured his day’s work came to an abrupt halt after 38 minutes.
Speaking at the post-match press conference, head coach Joe Schmidt said: “He’s gutted. I’m gutted for him. I think the team are. I actually thought he was just getting into his rhythm and the game. Talking to him after the game, he’s already thinking about his rehab and about trying to make sure he gets back. He’s got a big target in a year’s time that he wants to get to.
“He obviously won’t be available for the rest of the GUINNESS Series. I think I described him as a stubborn man on Thursday and I think that ability to bounce back, that resilience that he has, will still give him a chance of getting back towards the end of the year and then into the Six Nations.”
In the absence of O’Brien, his provincial colleague Dan Leavy again proved to be an able deputy in the Irish back row. This was familiar territory for the combative flanker, who replaced the stricken Josh van der Flier against France last February and went on to have a brilliant Six Nations.
Although he praised Leavy for the role he played in helping Ireland to secure an eventual 28-17 victory over the Pumas, Schmidt acknowledged that he faces a selection dilemma ahead of next Saturday’s mouthwatering clash with New Zealand at the same venue.
“Obviously Dan, not long after he came on he gave up a bit of an unlucky penalty. But his competitiveness, how combative he is, how keen he is to get involved. I thought he did a really good job. Defensively he was strong. Got some good pressure on the ball. That’s what you want from a seven.
“I do think there’s some other sevens who are going very well as well. Obviously Josh did in Chicago and that’s a tough decision for us during the week, which is exactly what we want. We’re disappointed not to have Sean O’Brien in that decision-making mix, but the seven loose forwards who are in the squad. Or seven-and-a-half if you count Tadhg Beirne, half as a second row and half as a back row.
“It’s an uncomfortable decision that’s going to have to be made, but it does add comfort knowing that Dan, on the back of a couple of hit-outs, has slotted straight back in as well as he did.”
In addition to the sidelined O’Brien, there is also some concern surrounding the fitness of Kieran Marmion, Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw, who pulled before kick-off and was replaced by Will Addison. While the next few days will determine the extent of their respective knocks, Schmidt is hopeful they will all have recovered in time for the New Zealand game.
“Robbie, his hamstring tightened during the warm-up. We’re going to have to look at it and we’ll know more over the next few days. We’re hopeful because we didn’t push him and we could have tried to see how he went on the pitch. It was right towards the end of the warm-up, where we just felt that it would be a two-fold risk.
“One, would it do more damage, and two, it’s always difficult if you’ve got to substitute someone five minutes into a Test match when you have a limited number of substitutes. Kieran Marmion just rolled his ankle a little bit. If you watch on, he does play on. We’d be very hopeful that he’ll be fine. He might have to elevate his ankle for the next 24-48 hours and get a bit of ice on it, but we’d be relatively confident he’ll be okay.
“Bundee was actually walking problem-free, not limping at all, in the changing room just then. Again, you’d be pretty confident that he’ll be okay. The next 24 to 48 hours will give us a better insight into how soon he’ll be able to train and run fully.”
Reflecting on a physical encounter with the Argentinians, returning Ireland captain Rory Best felt that the Pumas posed problems for them at the lineout that will need to be rectified over the course of the next week.
“When I saw their team, they picked three second rows (with Guido Petti at flanker) and I kinda felt they were going to target that. They were moving around and guessing a wee bit, and when a team does that sometimes, with your process, they guess right,” explained the Ulster hooker.
There was a few that they guessed and we’d obviously be disappointed with that. Having said that then, we got ourselves back together again and won a few scrappily. Sometimes you just have to get the ball back. We’ll be better for tonight, just a little bit of that cohesion in the lineout.”
Nonetheless, when you consider that Ireland restricted Mario Ledesma’s men to a solitary penalty goal in an improved second half performance, Best believes they can take a number of positives forward into that much-anticipated showdown with New Zealand.
“It’s like every game for us. We always look to improve, we always look to get better. There were some areas that we were very happy with and some areas we know we need to work on. I think we’ll be better for another week together. I can’t really put a figure on how much you need to get better, but we know we need to keep improving,” he added.