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Sean O'Brien Plans To Change The Way He Plays Rugby

Sean O'Brien Plans To Change The Way He Plays Rugby
Conor O'Leary
By Conor O'Leary
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Sean O'Brien's last action in the green shirt of Ireland was to make 16 tackles without missing in the heartbreaking loss to New Zealand. That Ireland have achieved so much with a world class player sitting on the sidelines since is remarkable.

It's probably no surprise to anyone then, that in every interview he's given in the last week is opened with the question, "How does it feel to be back?".

Selected in the strong Ireland Wolfhounds team to play the England Saxons tonight represents his first outing since his second shoulder operation in 14 months. An infection from the first shoulder issue cost O'Brien another six months and now he's back and ready to make up for lost time.

He tells Hugh Cahill on GameOn that he knew as soon as the operation was finished that his shoulder was better. There was no pain, and it felt different. This made it easier for O'Brien to have confidence to come back, and have confidence in his shoulder.

After the second op, I kinda knew straight away; It felt a lot different and you know, I was looking forward then to getting stuck into rehab and getting back playing.

On Matt Cooper's Last Word, he dismisses any notion that his career was in jeopardy, and the confidence he had in his shoulder following the operation was supplemented by passing each little goal on the road to recovery. Goals like testing the shoulder with tackle pads before feeling comfortable enough to graduate to full contact. The first few hits in training give him the confidence and suggest he'll be the same ball carrying machine that Ireland and Leinster have been crying out for.


Or will he?

Sean O'Brien Change

There's different times in games when you'll come across those situations again and you'll have to try and run over someone or find a body. But it's part of the game now where you're trying to be a lot smarter and cleverer about the way you play.

O'Brien spoke on Off The Ball that he's looking to change his game. The break from rugby may have done him good, and most retired players tell him that he'll be much fresher when he comes back and this should help his longevity. But the break has also allowed him to reflect on his game, and he concedes that he won't be charging in to contact as much anymore, rather looking for space.


If there's a bit of space, I'll be looking for the space, moreso than the contact. But it's probably something I did at the start of my career a lot, more than now.


Sure, there will be times when O'Brien runs over players that lifts the team and the whole stadium, but this new development may allow O'Brien to make more linebreaks, more metres and crucially give Ireland and Leinster more front-foot ball that is so vital in the game today.

That type of attrition, you won't last forever or your lifespan as a rugby player won't last that long. You have to be smart about it, while being able to mix it in that aspect of the game too.

Not that he'll be guaranteed his spot for Ireland or Leinster. Since he's been away, the crowded backrow in his home province have had an influx of players with Jordi Murphy and Jack Conan making star turns for Leinster, while Rhys Ruddock has established himself with Leinster and Ireland. Add to the already ensconced Jamie Heaslip, Shane Jennings and Dominic Ryan.

O'Brien ponders why Ireland seem to be a factory for quality backrowers, he supposes that many rugby countries produce great backrowers. Backrow is a position that is a mixture of backs and forwards, and the way the game is taught in schools leads to many multi-talented players.

When asked whether he would have liked if someone had taught him out to play at outhalf when he was younger, O'Brien decides that he's not grumpy enough for the role, and the likes of Johnny Sexton would be much better suited for it.


I don't know, I don't think I'm grumpy enough for outhalf, I think Johnny is the man for that. I don't know if I'd have the attitude for outhalf. It's probably a handier job maybe.

The next few weeks for O'Brien will be interesting. His performance tonight will give a guide on how far he is away from participating in the early Six Nations games, or would a few Leinster Pro 12 games give a better outlet for him.

He'll look to focus on getting match fit with accurate tackles and clean outs, and will know he's back when he has that first good carry.


The standards that Schmidt sets will ensure that players look hard on himself, - and even though he's returning from injury - O'Brien knows there is nowhere to hide. Patience will see him back to his best and in a good place to improve, which is exactly what Ireland need to do as preparations for the World Cup ramp up.

But for now, O'Brien prefers to think day by day, as the small matter of the Sam Burgess led Saxons has to be overcome first. What a prospect that is.

Listen to the Off The Ball interview here:


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