Seán O’Brien linked with Racing Metro
Sources believe flanker has been lined up to wear the famous ciel et blanc colours
Jonathan Sexton and Seán O’Brien celebrate after the British & Irish Lions had beaten Australia in the deciding third Test at the ANZ Stadium in Sydney. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Racing Metro have emerged as favourites to sign Leinster and Irish flanker Seán O’Brien.
Following on from Racing’s acquisition of Jonny Sexton, separate well-placed Parisian sources believe O’Brien has been lined up to wear the famous ciel et blanc colours next season, thereby swelling an Irish contingent, which also includes Ronan O’Gara as a skills/kicking coach.
Along with Jamie Heaslip, who is also out of contract at the end of the season, the 26-year-old O’Brien had been linked with Clermont Auvergne, but Racing’s pursuit of the Lions flanker is apparently altogether more advanced, and Parisian sources say they are confident of acquiring him for next season.
Perhaps significantly, the Racing Metro multi-millionaire owner and president, Jacky Lorenzetti, has already developed a working relationship with O’Brien’s agent, Fintan Drury of Platinum One, who represented Sexton in the drawn-out negotiations with Racing and the IRFU which culminated in the Leinster, Ireland and Lions outhalf joining the Top 14 outfit in the summer.
Now in his sixth season with Leinster, for whom he has played 82 times, O’Brien is expected to return to action in the next week or two after a successful operation on a broken thumb after the Lions tour, when he forced his way on to the bench for the second Test and played a starting and starring role in the decisive third Test win along with Sexton.
Regarding reports linking him with Clermont Auvergne, O’Brien told the Carlow Nationalist: “It’s all speculation and rumours”.
Not rushing into anything
He added: “I’m not rushing into anything. I’m conscious I have only so many years left at this level and it’s important that I look after myself and get as much out of my career as I possibly can.”
The aptly named Tullow Tank, who worked his way into the Leinster scene from his home-town club through the Leinster and Irish Youths set-up, has retained close links as a coach with Tullow but has indicated this season he would have to reduce his involvement there to afford himself more rest in between games.
However, were O’Brien of a mind to move then, akin to the 28-year-old Sexton, he and his advisers would surely deem this point in his career a more opportune time to do so rather than in two or three years’ time, and thus afford him a reasonable opportunity to return and finish his career in Ireland.
If this scenario comes to pass, it would also heighten the creeping sense of unease within the upper echelons of Irish rugby regarding the increasing financial muscle of the Top 14’s leading sides, emboldened as they are by the backing of wealthy benefactors and an impending, improved TV deal for coverage of the Top 14 with Canal+ or, possibly, beIN Sport, which is likely to double or even treble the current €30 million per annum agreement with Canal+.
Were the current impasse in negotiations for a new Accord to end the Heineken Cup, then fears of a sharp increase in the exodus of Irish players would be even more acute.
O’Brien and Sexton have, arguably, been the outstanding players of recent years for Leinster and Ireland. O’Brien’s contribution to the province’s 2010-11 Heineken Cup triumph marked him out as one of the outstanding ball-carriers in European rugby, and he was named the ERC European Player of the Year.
In winning most of his 27 caps at openside, he has also become increasingly more effective at the breakdown and made such an impression on the 2011 World Cup that in the wins over Australia, Russia, Italy and Wales, he was named as the “Player of Pool C” by the IRB, openside flanker, on the Sydney Morning Herald’s “Team of the World Cup Pool Stages” and one of the tournament’s “Top Five Star Players” on the official RWC website.
Reaching his peak years, were he to follow Sexton’s footsteps in joining Racing Metro it would represent another cruel loss for Leinster but, as with the loss of Sexton, the province will again be outside the loop as it will be up the IRFU to negotiate with O’Brien and his representatives with an international contract.