Exiled Seán O’Brien not ruling out a third Lions tour

Veteran flanker ready to hit the ground running as rugby resumes in England

Not quite Ronnie O’Sullivan levels of honesty but Sean O’Brien has never been afraid of speaking the truth into recording devices.

The autobiography, Fuel, is coming soon and despite an excruciating list of battle scars the 33-year-old is adamant that his body is stronger than ever.

Dangling another Lions tour in front of a man who has been injured for most of the time since mangling his shoulder, after a ferocious collision with Jerome Kaino, 30 minutes into the drawn third test against New Zealand in 2017 would elicit a bland 'one game at a time' response from 99.9 per cent of rugby's talking heads.

Not Seanie. The former European player of the year may have undergone a “hip resurfacing” operation - the first player to follow Andy Murray’s attempted recovery - but happily promotes the value of Warren Gatland sending his farmer’s frame out to battle the Springboks next summer.


"Going to South Africa, into that environment, you could do with a few experienced heads so we will see what happens," smiled O'Brien, sitting in his car after London Irish training ahead of Saturday's trip to play Bath at The Rec.

“I’ll be dead straight with ya: It is something I have not ruled out. It would be another massive honour if I can play well enough for London Irish this season and next season. There is always that stuff in the back of your head - that little burning sensation. Whether it will happen or not, is another question.”

It is put to O'Brien that he would need to become the English Premiership's dominant flanker to stand any chance of making a third Lions tour as a call from Ireland coach Andy Farrell is not expected.

“I will happily try that! It will be down to me at the end of the day, how well I am playing and how well the team is going.”

Selection would be guaranteed if O'Brien rediscovers his 2017 form. Equally, this would heap pressure on Farrell to review the policy of only selecting provincially contracted players - the last exception being Johnny Sexton in 2015.

“You know when you sign a contract to leave Ireland that is the rule that is in place. That’s life. You get on with it.

“If you are playing really well and other people are not playing well you kind of think you can still add value to the set up. That’s completely up to the coaches and the rules they have in place. If the rule wasn’t there would I like to play for Ireland? Of course I would. I would love to play for Ireland every weekend.”

First name on his lips when asked about the Ireland backrows pecking order is Dan Leavy.

“It will be great to have that dog back in the pack again.”

If anyone can force the IRFU into a change of heart it is Sean O’Brien.

“The way it is at the minute I don’t think that would happen. You look at (Simon Zebo) for instance. Johnny was the exception at the time but Zeebs has put in some serious shifts in the last few seasons (at Racing 92 in Paris) . . . but, again, something would probably have to be done before that could happen.”

None of this talk will matter if O’Brien’s body crumbles in only his second outing for London Irish since signing a lucrative three-year deal. Valid concerns stem from Ireland’s most decorated openside experiencing multiple setbacks down the years.

Have the hips been stress tested in training?

“I can assure you they have. It is not as if I am going round with a bib on me saying ‘Lads, don’t go near me.’ There are lads flying into me over here and I am flying into them. It is rugby as normal for me.”

Reuniting with Declan Kidney and Les Kiss - the Ireland coaches for the majority of his 56 caps - has made the transition to Brentford seem relatively smooth (10 weeks back on the farm in Tullow was also a welcome break).

“Deccie is the same old Deccie so that has been quite enjoyable for me. I put him back in his box every now and again when he is talking in riddles - like he always has - but no, we have a really good relationship.

“They have changed a small bit in the way they manage and expect the group to be. That goes back to different cultures and different personalities. It has been a learning curve for them too. They are really good coaches, Deccie is still a really good man manager.

“They are the same type of people that they were back then. Really good people that want to be successful and want the club to be successful.”

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent