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Irish can't afford to repeat slow start in Six Nations: O'Brien

Focused mind: Sean O’Brien insists Ireland have learned from
the defeat to Scotland in last year’s Six Nations opener
Focused mind: Sean O’Brien insists Ireland have learned from the defeat to Scotland in last year’s Six Nations opener

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

A sluggish start cost Ireland dear in last year's Six Nations and Sean O'Brien believes Joe Schmidt's side have learnt the lesson of Murrayfield.

Losing to Scotland cost the 2014 and 2015 champions the momentum they needed as they were forced to chase results and ended up finishing a distant second to England.

With another round of inter-provincial games to come before the concluding rounds of the European pool stages, it is easy to forget that the Championship begins in less than a month.

Ireland start with a tough clash away to France under new coach Jacques Brunel and, after their sluggish opening last season, O'Brien is expecting better.

"I think so," he said when asked if the lesson had been learnt. "You'd expect us to be in a good place. We're picking from a stronger squad again, it's building nicely and there are younger guys coming in again who will add value.

"The provinces have been tipping away nicely so we'll get in that first week, it will be an exciting place to be. Everyone ramps it up a gear when you get in there. We've a good challenge first up.

"We should be beating them if we want to go places. You know we have to start well. We know from last year what happened if you don't start well. So again, we've learned from that, we'll make sure we hit the ground running.

"I don't think there's much between any of the international teams. Some of the games we lost last year were our own fault.

"I think if you look at England, they ground out some wins but you know they played well at times when they needed to, they did the right things and probably evolved a little bit that way."

Having sat out the Christmas inter-pros with a hip problem, O'Brien is confident that he'll return to the Leinster team for the Glasgow game on Sunday week.

And while Dan Leavy and Josh van der Flier have been tearing up trees in his absence, the Lion is not concerned about his place in the pecking order.

"I'm comfortable enough in my own skin," he said with a smile.

"No, you'd expect the lads to do that, especially those two. Every game they've played, they've played really well.

"It's healthy competition. I know when I am fit that I can mix it with them all so that's what I need to be, fit."

From the outside, the Leinster set-up looks to be as healthy as it has been since the glory days under Schmidt, and while O'Brien says it is a different set-up now, he is excited by what is happening under Leo Cullen.

"It's a different time and a different squad, and probably a bit of a different culture, but it is certainly an exciting place to be right now," he said.

"We've put ourselves in a good place and the next few weeks will probably define our whole season. We have done a lot of good work so far, but we know we have a lot more to do."

Belfast Telegraph


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