Seán O’Brien: “I just wanted to break free”

Pascal Papé’s evidence points to “violent punch” that hampered him throughout the game

Seán O'Brien is due to miss Sunday's World Cup quarter-final against Argentina following pointed and severe criticism from Pascal Papé and the French team doctor.

Testimony by Papé, who the Ireland flanker admitted to striking in the first minute of Sunday's Pool D decider, and Dr Jean-Baptiste Grisoli that the French lock is suffering from "ongoing disabilities" and was unable to train Tuesday afternoon had a significant impact on O'Brien receiving a one week suspension.

“I just wanted to break free and try to get whoever it was off me at the time,” O’Brien told the disciplinary hearing in London. “I was fully focused on the next play and what my job was. It was early in the game and I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t making any mistakes at that stage, so I was fully focused on my next job. I was just trying to get rid of the player off my side and get to where I wanted to be in the defensive line.”

Expressing remorse, O’Brien added: “Looking back now, it’s something that I wish didn’t happen and I am embarrassed . . . it hasn’t been an easy couple of days. It’s something I wish I could take back now.”


The judicial officer at the hearing, Terry Willis (Australia), having viewed video evidence, accepted that O'Brien's was a closed fist strike after Papé made contact with the Irish flanker above the waist, a contact that was not considered a firm grip.

Papé, in what proved a damning written statement, said: “I received a violent punch on the area of the sternum. Due to the instantly pain (sic), I collapse (sic) to the ground and couldn’t breathe anymore. I received care from Dr Grisoli. All along the game I felt a violent pain the area where I had been beaten.”

Despite this discomfort the veteran French lock made five carries and an astonishing 17 tackles in the 71 minutes following medical treatment.

Papé was suspended for 10 weeks during this year's Six Nations for kneeing Jamie Heaslip in the back. Despite three fractured vertebrae, the Leinster and Ireland captain subsequently accepted an apology via twitter. During cross examination on telephone from France's training base in Newport, Papé could not recall pulling O'Brien but acknowledged that he may have touched him.

Following written statements from Joe Schmidt and Brian O'Driscoll, the hearing accepted that O'Brien is "a young man with an exceptionally good character" and that his was an "instinctive reaction to being held."

O'Brien's solicitor Max Duthie put forward a defence that Papé's injuries were inconsequential but Dr Grisoli's testimony convinced Willis otherwise. The French doctor stated that Papé was unable to take contact training at Tuesday lunch time.

Those “ongoing disabilities” led to a two week suspension reduced to one when O’Brien’s previously clean record was taken into consideration.

O’Brien has 48 hours to appeal.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent