O’Brien prepared to ‘go up the guts’ for Ireland against Italy
Leinster flanker is powered up and ready to be Ireland’s main man in Rome
Ireland’s Seán O’Brien in action against Italy in the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Seán O’Brien could be a key man today. Rarely committing more than one or two to the breakdown in defence, Italy regroup and fill the pitch quickly. If Ireland are to make inroads closer in around the fringes, the more carries O’Brien makes, and specifically the more times he breaks the defensive line and offloads, the closer they will be to winning this game.
Last week England fell into the trap of going side to side against the Azzurri in being kept tryless, with their former World Cup winning coach imploring them to “go up the guts”. The RTÉ panellists swiftly came to the conclusion that O’Brien is the main man for this Italian job, all the more so if the support runners starting flooding his channel look for offloads.
The problem for the flanker is that not alone is he Ireland’s go-to carrier, he is also their most targeted player defensively, and it doesn’t help his cause that so many of his carries are as first receiver, where the traffic is most congested. The heavy rain of the two games has also made offloading even riskier, witness his offload in the second-half last weekend which Conor Murray couldn’t hold.
“They’re all things that everyone else is looking for. If it’s on for an offload I will try and get it away,” he says before adding another caveat about the Italians’ less porous defence. “The big thing is that the tackler does a very good job in their half. He gets back on his feet and competes, and makes opposition teams throw numbers in and the rest of them are just fanning out, so we’ll have to break them down and go through the middle of them before we can take them on out wide.”
Lions in focus
Warren Gatland’s presence at Tuesday’s training also brought the Lions squad announcement in less than four weeks a little more sharply into focus, although he’s such an innately practical lad you believe O’Brien when he conveys that he is less consumed than others.
“I’d be lying if I was saying it’s not in the back of my mind, but it’s not the be all and end all at the minute. You’re aware that it’s there but it’s something I haven’t given a whole lot of thought to over the last couple of weeks. Trying to get a win on the board here is of utmost importance.”
Irish numbers are liable to be down to seven or eight, compared to the 14 who were originally picked on the back of the 2009 Grand Slam, but even though the backrow is uber competitive, O’Brien looks like one of Ireland’s likelier lads.