Belfast Telegraph

O’Brien shows he’s the future for Ireland

Depth is not a word over-associated with Irish rugby.

With a playing population far below the likes of England, France, New Zealand, Wales and South Africa, Ireland selections over the years have, by necessity, tended to veer towards an ‘old reliable' policy.

However, in the back-row, Ireland coach Declan Kidney and his management team have a plethora of options heading into World Cup year and Sean O'Brien is top of the pile.

The 'old reliable' in Ireland's breakaway unit is Munster's David Wallace, whose impressive December displays emphasised the welcome headache for Kidney.

But, with Wallace rested for Munster's Magners League trip to Galway under the Player Welfare Programme, Leinster's assignment at Ravenhill against Ulster was the perfect opportunity for O'Brien to lay down another marker.

Following two tries in the opening 14 minutes and a man of the match performance, it is safe to say the Tullow man did just that.

And depth, in a different way, was key to it all.

The pass may have been forward for O'Brien's first score, but the line he ran off the shoulder of scrum-half Isaac Boss and the momentum he had built up by the time he received possession were sublime.

Running from deep is something that used to be drilled into rugby playersfrom youth but, in recent years, the sight of players taking possession in static positions was far more commonplace.

After six minutes, O'Brien had a head of steam up when he took the pop from Boss and it allowed him to sweep contemptuously past BJ Botha before handing off another Springbok, Ruan Pienaar, on his way to the line.

Eight minutes later, O'Brien served up a repeat, tearing onto Boss' pass for another touchdown.

The Ireland Grand Slam back-row of Stephen Ferris, Wallace and Jamie Heaslip is seemingly set in stone but, if O'Brien maintains this run of form, he will demand inclusion in one of the positions.

If O'Brien was the star turn, former Ulster stalwart Boss was not far behind him, after Eoin Reddan's excellent showing last weekend against Clermont, scrum-half is another position where Leinster are well served.

And we are back to depth, again. Dominic Ryan, Rhys Ruddock, Fergus McFadden and Dave Kearney all had their moments alongside their older colleagues while Ulster and Kidney can, despite defeat, take solace from the performances of McAllister and Nevin Spence as well as Willie Faloon and Paul Marshall off the bench.

It was the contribution of their South African contingent that most frustrated and raised, yet again, the issue of overseas recruitment at the expense of homogenous talent.

At the moment, it seems to be a case of low return for high investment in Ulster and Faloon being forced to sit on the bench to accommodate under-performing Bokke appear preposterous.

Consider this question, how much is Ruan Pienaar being paid compared to Sean O'Brien and who is worth more to Irish rugby? If that's not too deep ...

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