Seán O’Brien says Ireland can be one of the super powers of world rugby

27-year-old believes Ireland will win in Paris because France lack structure

Seán O’Brien: very optimistic about Ireland’s future under Joe Schmidt. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Seán O’Brien: very optimistic about Ireland’s future under Joe Schmidt. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho


Seán O’Brien’s simple rationale as to why Ireland will win the Six Nations championship in Paris this Saturday is compelling and believable.

“I just don’t think (France) have a structure in place or a real steady game plan. I think after two or three phases they kind of don’t know where they are going.”

That’s the antithesis of Joe Schmidt’s Ireland. There’s always a plan.

Going to the Wales game proved too painful so the 27-year-old is couched this week, more tuned into Cheltenham, having been forced outside the Carton House bubble by the shoulder injury he suffered in December (while he is well on the road to recovery, he confirmed yesterday that the injury will keep him out of Ireland’s summer tour of Argentina).

O’Brien oozes clarity and calmly feels that Ireland are currently the best team in the northern hemisphere. “It was always a thing years ago where you never really wanted to go to France for your first cap or second cap as you’d be waiting years for another one!

“I don’t think that’s the case anymore. We’ve grown up a lot over the last five or six games.”

That demanded elaboration.

“We can be one of the super powers of world rugby. Before we would just be satisfied with competing. The players we have and the squad we have now, we can beat anybody. That’s what we had to realise after the All Blacks game.

“It’s probably better now that we have Joe there. We’ve no excuses. We have the best coaching staff, we have the best players and the best squad we’ve ever had in the Six Nations. You see the replacements coming in and upping the pace of matches.”

Belief is half the battle but, much like New Zealand, a French team will never contemplate losing to Ireland. Not in Paris. That’s the fear. That’s what makes it seem essential to compile a healthy points advantage in the early stages.

‘Same mindset’
“No, I don’t think so,” O’Brien, speaking at a Guinness Plus App function, countered. “I think we just have to go into the game with the same mindset as we have previously. Why change anything if we have that structure that we’ve had the last few games? Eventually we will break them down.”

He also provided a different perspective on Top 14 rugby. The public perception is that he turned down the opportunity to join Toulon to protect his body but he inferred yesterday that playing for Leinster can be more taxing on joints and sockets.

“There’s a lot of talk about the French league being so hard or whatever but you don’t see too many French lads retiring early, it’s a lot slower league over there than it is here, so if you’re playing at a lot slower pace you’re not getting hit as hard and you’re body isn’t going through as much either.

“It’s a man-up-a-thon nearly every week. ‘I’ve got a bigger pack than you and we’re going to roll over you’. There’s not too much invention, maybe.”

Not many know it but there’s a coaching life in O’Brien’s future should he so desire (“If I’m not sick of rugby by then!”). Not long ago he was compelled to call Carlow football manager Anthony Rainbow.

“I gave [Rainbow]a ring and said do you mind if I have a word with the lads and do a few sessions with them, and he said, ‘Yeah, absolutely.’

“I go down every couple of weeks when they’re training or whatever. I do a little bit of mental stuff with them; give them little triggers in training and whatnot.

“They’ve reacted to it well and they’re a bit more professional about how they’re doing things. There’s a lot to do within the county board, a lot to be dished out there I think over the next while, but they had a nice win yesterday and that will give them a lot of confidence.

“I think the culture down there in the last few years has been pretty poor and I thought now that there’s a batch of young lads in there they might change it.”

The man knows all about changing a team culture having lived through that process as a Leinster cub and is driving it now with Ireland. Even from a distance.