Sean O’Brien has had to be patient in trying to build up his collection of Irish caps.
Injury has not helped him. To date it has taken him a year to clock up just three appearances, each of those as a replacement.
On Saturday, when Ireland face Samoa in the second of their four 2010 Guinness Series outings, the 23-year-old Leinster flanker — a St Valentine’s Day baby — finally will make his long-awaited first start.
Since O’Brien won the last of his three caps — for a seven-minute run-out against Italy in the opening match of the 2010 RBS 6 Nations back on February 6 — Ireland have played four further Championship games, two summer tour Tests and last weekend’s Aviva Stadium clash with the Springboks.
They lost five of those seven matches — to France, Scotland, New Zealand, Australia and the Springboks.
So although his international experience to date amounts to 79 minutes in 51 weeks — 37 against Fiji on November 21, 2009 followed a week later by a 35-minute shift against South Africa and then that Six Nations Championship cameo in last season’s Dublin opener against Italy, he is able to say that Ireland have never lost a match in which he has played.
O’Brien is philosophical about the subject of caps and slow-to-come-by international honours.
“The competition there (in the Irish back row) is unbelievable. There’s lots of experience and I’m the youngest fella so I suppose that doesn’t stand to me at times,” says the player who has been Lion David Wallace’s patient understudy.
“But at the end of it I’m eager and I want to get in there and prove a point.Wally has been there a long time now, very experienced, great player, sound in every aspect of the game so it’s just been getting in there every week and trying to prove your point.”
His evident desire to get started notwithstanding, O’Brien insists he has not found it difficult to remain patient.
“It’s not as if I’m at the end of my career. I’m only young and I’m getting experience the whole time. Even training is good; I’m learning things from these lads.
“If you get down about it or think you’re not going to get your opportunities that will affect your game,” he feels.
Although he is noted for his ability to win ball on the ground O’Brien is keen to stress that he can carry and cross the gain line, too. “Like Wally,” he adds.
Looking ahead to the weekend, he points out: “Obviously the Samoans are known for their contact, but our physicality should be the same as theirs, if not better. That’s what we need to achieve on the day — to have more physicality than they do.
“I’m delighted to be selected and we’ll do our best this week,” he says with an intensity which confirms a total commitment to making up for lost time.