Seán O’Brien takes Ireland captaincy talk in his stride
Schmidt to name new leader on Wednesday with forward among favourites
Seán O’Brien, who captained Ireland in a World Cup warm-up match against Scotland last August, cut a relaxed figure as discussed speculation linking him to the role.
Fresh from a late cameo in Leinster’s Champions Cup victory over Bath at the RDS on Saturday, the 28-year-old said: “It would be something you would embrace, a huge honour if you were asked. I have not actually thought that much about it. There is no discussion back and forth. I am sure Joe will have his own criteria to fill it.
“Nothing really changes, I have always said that. The captain is just a word. You have to keep doing what you are doing. I don’t see it as a burden or anything on you.”
O’Brien makes the point that the most important aspect of captaincy is the ability to command the respect of the group, drive standards and lead by deed as much as word.
“You want someone who is going to be one of the leading players on and off the field, who can influence things by what he does, what he stands for, how he leads the group, drives a key message during the week, keeping his standards to be the best he can be.
“When you look at previous captains like Paulie, Brian [O’Driscoll], that was what they did. They were the ultimate professionals. And whatever they said, they backed it up by doing the business on the field. When you have someone like that on your side, you look to them and you follow them.”
He also pointed to the fact that a captain enjoys the support of a core group of leaders, who help make decisions, particularly on the pitch.
“That is why we have the leadership group. You don’t want to be yapping as a forward.
“You don’t want to be doing too much yapping towards the backs. They have their own problems. They want to solve theirs. We want to solve ours. There are leaders within the whole group and over the last few years lads on the bench have been leaders, and when they come onto the field, they have driven that aspect of it.”
Mike Ross (torn hamstring) and Cian Healy (minor knee surgery) are still a week or two away from returning, making them doubtful for Ireland’s opening game of the Six Nations game against Wales. O’Brien stresses that such absences – along with longer term injury victims Iain Henderson, Tommy Bowe and Peter O’Mahony – represent an opportunity for others.
“With the talent that is in the provinces now, all the younger lads coming through, competition is still going to be very high. I wouldn’t be thinking anything negative; we’re looking forward to the challenge and looking forward to getting going again. I think we’ll have a very, very strong squad this year, and a hugely talented squad.
Eager “That’s the exciting part about it
. There are other lads trying to fill in their roles, they’re eager and bring a lot of energy.”
O’Brien added that the responsibility for any players coming in was to fulfil the role required within the team structure, something that would be clearly defined by Schmidt.
One such tyro, his provincial teammate, Josh van der Flier, has impressed O’Brien. “He’s going to be unbelievable. You look at what he’s done this year, his workrate and his general play; he’s phenomenal.
“He’s definitely going to be in the reckoning. He’s one of the most in-form players. I’d happily go around and try to pinch balls off the lads he’s chopping.”
From a Leinster perspective, O’Brien suggested that the young players who acquitted themselves so well against Bath could go on to eclipse some of the elder statesmen.
“They’re probably going to be better in the long run. You look at Ross [Molony], the game he played and the maturity he showed at the weekend; going into a game like that and running the lineout, and his general play as well. It’s an exciting time. I think we’ll soon see what they’re all made of.”