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Sean O'Brien utterly brilliant to push Schmidt's Ireland to top of Pool D

The Tullow Tank was massively effective for Ireland in the Millennium Stadium.

Murray Kinsella reports from the Millennium Stadium

THERE WAS LOTS of talk in the build-up to this game that Sean O’Brien needed a big one.

In truth, they all needed big ones, even more so given what unfolded.

Sean O'Brien celebrates winning O'Brien was a dominant force for Ireland. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

O’Brien was quietly effective last weekend against Italy, but we hadn’t seen him dominate a game like this for some time. There had even been mutterings that O’Brien was not the same player as before, that injuries had changed the back row.

Nonsense, said O’Brien with this performance. He exploded into the game with an aggression level that appeared to spill over into lashing out on Pascal Papé, an action that might prevent him from playing in Ireland’s World Cup quarter-final.

The hope will be that his actions early in the game were viewed only as a yellow card offence, but it will be difficult for Ireland to be overly optimistic. O’Brien himself might have realised at that moment that trouble is coming his way.

There was only one way to react.

We see it sometimes in football, a player recognising that they will play no further part in the next round after a yellow card brings a suspension in a cup competition. You unload everything into the ‘now,’ leave yourself physically broken with work rate.

Roy Keane did it in 1999. Ruled out of the final of the Champions League due to a yellow in the semi-final against Juventus, he delivered a pure performance in Turin to help ensure his side would indeed take part in the decider.

While O’Brien will hope he is on the pitch next weekend against Argentina, he left nothing undone this evening in Cardiff. He gave the most rounded individual performance from an Irishman at this World Cup, doing it all for Joe Schmidt’s side.

His ferocious aggression allowed him to constantly spoil French possession, winning two clear turnovers and assisting more. His tackle packed serious punch throughout, halting those beefy French carriers whenever they came within firing range of O’Brien’s broad shoulders.

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Brice Dulin and Scott Spedding with Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip O'Brien constantly hunted for the ball in defence. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The 60th minute steal on Mathieu Bastareaud stands out, O’Brien combining with Ian Madigan to put the France centre to deck, showing a release as he stayed on his feet and clamping straight onto the ball. Clean turnover with a 14-6 lead and the pressure lifted from the French 22. Magnificent.

What about the read and near-interception on Bastareaud in the first half, with France numbers up wide on the right and looking like scoring from fifty metres out? Brilliant.

O’Brien was even more effective in attack for Ireland, carrying the ball 19 times and consistently making it beyond the gainline, even when faced by multiple defenders. The hunger Ireland’s openside showed for contact in defence was very much echoed when he got on the ball.

Add in all the important set-piece work O’Brien got through at the lineout and in keeping his head down and actually scrummaging, and the performance was near perfect. O’Brien’s leadership was pivotal too with Paul O’Connell and Johnny Sexton off the pitch.

The best leaders inspire with their actions and O’Brien did that more than ever in this brutal contest. 

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Murray Kinsella

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