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In-form Sean O'Brien major boost for Schmidt's reign

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Life at the eye of the storm appears to suit Sean O'Brien.

Whether it's facing a wall of would-be tacklers or dealing with being the most in-demand Irish player around, the Tullow native seems able to put the fuss to the back of his mind and perform.

He has played just three games this season, but already he has put in the type of performances that saw him rise from 24th man to starting Test Lion last summer.

While much of the focus this week has surrounded the health of Paul O'Connell and Johnny Sexton, O'Brien's success in getting over the ankle injury he suffered three weeks ago has been at least of equal importance.

If Ireland are to beat Samoa, Australia and New Zealand in the coming weeks, they will need their openside to be at his best.

That he, Peter O'Mahony and Jamie Heaslip have started the season on form is a major boost for Joe Schmidt ahead of the November internationals and the Ireland coach's ability to gel his back-row together will go a long way to a successful series in the coming weeks.

With the giants of French rugby circling around the 26-year-old and Leinster and the IRFU desperately hoping to hold on to their man, there could be plenty of reasons for O'Brien to get distracted, but he is setting no deadlines for getting his future sorted out and insists his sole focus for the rest of the month is on success with Ireland.

"To be honest, I couldn't care less about it at the minute," he said yesterday.

"I am concentrating on these three games, on these three weeks ahead of me. That stuff will look after itself in good time."

O'Brien trained yesterday for the first time since hooking up with the Ireland camp and said his ankle held up well.

Leinster coach Matt O'Connor insisted the injury kept him out of the Connacht clash only as a precaution and he could have played if needed.

"It happened in the captain's run before the Castres game. I kinda rolled it. It was a bit stiff that morning but I didn't think much of it and played away. On Sunday it flared up a little bit then so that's what happened," he explained.

Against Castres, he dominated the breakdown in a way he hadn't appeared able to do before and his ability on the ground will be a major string to Ireland's bow.

"I wouldn't say I have zeroed in on it recently but it is something that I wanted to get more into my game because the breakdown is such a big area over the last couple of years and it is probably going to be the main area in any game.

"Last year at times I think I was wasting myself a bit at rucks so I am trying to make better decisions and keep playing the way I am playing."

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