Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby

O'Brien on mission to make up for lost time

By Jonathan Bradley

If Canada are expecting a changed Ireland line-up on Saturday to lack the intensity displayed by the conquerors of the All Blacks a week prior, Sean O'Brien may ensure they have another thing coming.

The Leinster powerhouse has been key to so much of what Ireland have tried to do during the Joe Schmidt era, his absences through injury - and, for the World Cup quarter-final, suspension - a source of much consternation over the years.

It must, therefore, have stung the Tullow Tank, who was man of the match when Ireland were a turnover away from beating New Zealand in 2013, to miss out on last weekend's historic victory in Soldier Field.

Judged to be lacking in match-fitness after only recently returning to action, the 2011 European Player of the Year was left behind when his team-mates jetted off to the Windy City, instead togging out for Leinster during their PRO12 victory over Zebre.

"It probably is hard if I'm very honest," he admitted. "You are disappointed that you could have been there. But that's life, you've to go through these things. I'm looking forward to getting back on the field this week hopefully and that's all I'm thinking about now."

O'Brien said he was "delighted" for those that etched their names into Irish rugby history.

Indeed, the pilot of Leinster's return flight from northern Italy can attest to how much O'Brien wanted to see his team-mates protect a half-time lead in the way that had been beyond them three years ago.

"We got to the airport in Zebre and we got nearly all the first half and then we were on the plane," he said.

"I kept popping up to the pilot and asking him to check the score. He did, eventually.

"Obviously I'm disappointed not to be over there and involved but the lads put in a serious performance and effort, you could only be happy for them. There's a great buzz round the place.

"It was brilliant, but on a personal level not great. It was possibly a week too soon for me. That's just the way it goes sometimes."

It's a personal frustration he will no doubt look to take out on the Canadians come Saturday - with Ulster's Paddy Jackson expected to replace Jonathan Sexton in the starting line-up - in what is a repeat fixture from last year's World Cup and his first cap since sustaining a hamstring injury during the Six Nations clash with France.

And while plenty has changed for Ireland since then - first wins in South Africa and over New Zealand for starters - the 29-year-old says that missing out regardless of the occasion has been tough to take.

"For me, it's missing out on any international," he said.

"I want to play rugby and I want to play at this level. I've been out a good while from the international scene.

"It's not until you're away that you really miss it. You miss the environment, the lads and miss the big games.

"It's a tough place to be when you've a long-term injury because you want to be playing every week.

"I'm extremely motivated. I'm looking forward to the week in training, looking forward to the competitive nature of this week and hopefully get the nod to go back out there with a green jersey on."

One man who relished every moment of Saturday's win was prop Finlay Bealham.

Connacht's Australian-born tighthead, whose first taste of professional rugby was in the Ulster sub-Academy, came on as a replacement for Tadhg Furlong and wasted little time in making his mark on proceedings with a big effort in the scrum that led to Robbie Henshaw's clinching score.

With memories of the famed New Zealand fightback of 2013 still fresh in the mind, Bealham knew that his arrival in time for the last quarter could be crucial.

"Before the game we knew that the All Blacks scored a lot of points in that last 20 minutes, so there was a lot of responsibility on the subs to come on and make an impact," he said.

"It was a tough game to come into, there was a lot of running so I was blowing a bit but it was a great experience."

Despite the strong cameo, the most enduring image of Bealham's outing arguably arrived long before his introduction into the action with a staring down of the All Blacks' pre-match Haka.

But was it a carefully considered decision to show that he was not in awe of the back-to-back World champions, at that stage the winners of 18 games in a row?

Not as it turns out.

He added: "A few lads were sending me pictures but I think the sun was blinding me. I couldn't really see so I was squinting a little bit."



Guinness Series :

Aviva Stadium, Saturday, 7.15pm

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph