O’Brien unfazed by defeat in Bordeaux
Rather like the seasonal debut of a classic thoroughbred, the first emergence of a carefully honed and toned international rugby player is always greeted with tense anticipation.
Ireland unleashed a trio of their big guns into the blazing Bordeaux paddock for last Saturday evening's narrow defeat, with Jamie Heaslip, Paul O'Connell and Sean O'Brien, all making their seasonal bows.
After reports of near vomit-inducing, 90-minute drills under the sado-masochistic glare of the fitness staff, to whom much credit is owed after Ireland's endurance in the French furnace, nothing quite relates to the sense of liberation in notching up the first outing of the season.
Especially when the pedigree animals emerge from the fray in the finest of fettles.
And O'Brien, after last Saturday belatedly bursting to life in an openside position from which it has not always been possible to see the Tullow tank at his mightiest, is now craving more action as he awaits the Lansdowne Road re-match with the French.
The return of David Wallace, who appears to have amassed an even more remarkably imposing figure — were such a thing possible — on the evidence of his pre-season training, is likely to allow O'Brien to play the majority of the game in his preferred six or eight jumper.
“The pre-season has been good,” reported the upbeat Leinster man. “I was happy with the way it went. I'm feeling strong and fast, and they are the two things in particular I was focusing on in order to come out in good shape.
“So I'm happy enough with the way it's gone so far. A couple of games and I'll get match fit and I'm looking forward to the next few.
“I felt good on Saturday against France. I had a good break this summer, three and a half weeks, and I relaxed and came back in fresh and ready to go. Any bumps and bruises I had on me were nothing major. There are always a couple of niggles but you play away with them.”
Relief was the prevailing emotion once he ran out on to the Stade Chaban-Delmas, once he had managed to adjust to the broiling atmosphere before the partisan crowd.
“That's the thing,” he pipes in agreement. “You can do all the running and you can do all the pre-season you like but it's actually getting out there and playing the games that gets you properly fit. Match fitness is one thing and running around for a couple of hours is completely different.”
Aside from the disappointment of defeat, O'Brien shared the camp's enthusiastic acclaim for all the gruelling fitness sessions undertaken this summer, albeit you hardly suspect the players will be organising whip-rounds for their drill sergeants.
“Yeah, it was tough physically, particularly for lads who haven't played in a long time. But we knew it was going to be physical and we expected that. It was good that it was physical and we got nothing handy out there.
“We spoke about the fact that they might tire a little bit and we'd have to keep going in the third quarter.
“We probably did at times seem as if we were pushing ahead of them in terms of fitness, but we didn't have that killer instinct about us out there to take advantage on the scoreboard.”