World Cup Watch – Séan O’Brien

by Tom Fox

The talents of the ‘Tullow Tank’ may be well known to those of us in the Northern Hemisphere at this stage but Séan O’Brien is still a relative novice on the international stage. The credentials of say, Jamie Heaslip, would be more readily acknowledged in the Southern Hemisphere but the world will know all about O’Brien soon enough.

ERC player of the year, the powerful wing forward was instrumental this season in Leinster winning the Heineken Cup for the second time in three years. And therein lies his biggest attribute – power. The sheer strength of the flanker is staggering.

I stood at an Irish press conference prior to a Six Nations game in March as the players began to emerge into the room for one on one interviews. In walked Cian Healy, Donncha O’Callaghan and Séan O’Brien- three big men. Surprisingly, it was the size of O’Brien that took me aback the most, who had arms like tree trunks. Not a particularly tall flanker by modern standards, O’Brien makes up for what he lacks in height with a ferocious muscle mass.

It is this power which makes him so difficult to put down, with the sight of the wing forward brushing aside opponents all too familiar in last season’s Heineken Cup. . He is not a lumberer however. O’Brien possesses genuine pace and has the hands to unleash his support runners.

Ireland are at their best when playing at a high tempo brand of rugby, mixing their game up and applying pressure to the opposition across the pitch. To play this game, they need to get in behind teams, punching holes in their defense. Thus, getting their strike runners over that gain line will be key. O’Brien is the most effective they have. Feast on the beast below.

The Leinster man is not a one trick pony however and has other strings to his bow. O’Brien is decent on the deck, more than capable of turning over ball and competing at the breakdown. His low centre of gravity lends itself well to this particular art. He is not as proficient in this area as a Pocock or a McCaw but not many are to be fair.

Similarly, O’Brien’s positional sense and appreciation for his role has improved considerably over the last couple of years. More often now, he turns up in the right place and can often be found making vital covering tackles. He can also act as a lineout option if required.

Where O’Brien plays in this Irish backrow really depends on injuries and the particular game at hand. If Stephen Ferris is fit and available, the ERC player of the year may find himself at openside. If Ferris doesn’t make it, O’Brien will operate at six, as was was the case in the Six Nations, with David Wallace at seven. If required, he could also step into the number eight slot, as ably demonstrated for Leinster when Heaslip was injured last season. He is comfortable in any position across the backrow, which makes him a hugely valuable asset in a World Cup.

Yes, O’Brien has many attributes. It is, however, his dynamic ball carrying which sets him aside from the rest. Watch out for him storming through defenders on the fields of New Zealand this September with his combination of pace and power. It is a sight to behold.