Kildare man O'Brien benefits from stint in 7s as he pushes on with Leinster

The 23-year-old has shone at outside centre and fullback early on this season.

IRELAND MEN’S 7S will be kick-starting their adventure on the World Sevens Series in Dubai in two weekends’ time and Leinster man Jimmy O’Brien will be tracking their progress as closely as anyone.

The 23-year-old spent much of 2016/17 and 2017/18 with the 7s squad, shining even as Ireland came up short in their goal of qualifying onto the Series. 

jimmy-obrien O'Brien was brilliant in 7s during his time with Ireland. Andrew Fosker / INPHO Andrew Fosker / INPHO / INPHO

The Irish squad did finally earn their status as a core team when they won the Hong Kong Sevens last season, but O’Brien has moved on from his involvement in the shortened code of the game and is now impressing back in 15s with Leinster.

Kildare man O’Brien, who came through the ranks of Newbridge College, feels his experiences in 7s have made him a better player.

“It gave me a lot of confidence for taking lads on,” said O’Brien this week at Leinster’s UCD training base. “I came into it as a number 10 or 12, looking to pass the ball.

“With the 7s, you’re told to take guys on one-on-one and that gives you confidence.

“On the flip-side, you have to get better at your defending because everyone else is trying to do that to you, trying to beat you one-on-one.

“That helps, plus fitness and speed and things like that. I got a lot faster. If I hadn’t done 7s, I wouldn’t be as fast.”

O’Brien has been playing at fullback and outside centre with Leinster this season, impressing in three starts and two replacement appearances, the evasion skills he has improved in 7s standing out alongside his smart decision-making.

jimmy-obrien O'Brien is a versatile player. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

It remains to be seen if Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster look for the versatile O’Brien to settle in one position in the coming years.

“I don’t really have a favourite – 13 or 15 are the ones I’m mainly playing at the moment but I’ve played everywhere in school, for Leinster, and the A team,” said O’Brien.

“A bit at 10 even, I came on on the wing a couple of times last year, at the moment 13 or 15 I really enjoy them.

“I think in Leinster there’s always good players in whichever position, it is that hard to get onto the team. There’s so many good players either ahead of you or behind you in the academy, so, I don’t really appeal too much about it – if they want me to play 15, I’ll play 15. If they want me to play 13, I’ll play 13.”

Having only started to play fullback relatively recently, O’Brien has been picking up a few tips from his highly experienced team-mate Rob Kearney, particularly in the terms of his backfield positioning. 

But, while there are lots of influential senior figures to learn from, the expectation in Leinster is that even the youngest squad members step up and deliver when handed their chance.  

“I think you have seen that in the last three or four years, the young lads coming up have been unbelievable, even those starting at the weekend [in the Champions Cup].

ollie-griffiths-misses-a-tackled-on-jimmy-obrien The 22-year-old has impressed this season. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“There were very young lads in there who were leaders in the group and stuff like that. So I think they do trust young lads here and it is kinda expected of you here you are not just going to be babysat up there, you have to be a big player in the team when you are in it.”

O’Brien’s goal is to push into the squad for Champions Cup games and he’s certainly moving in the right direction so far this season. 

- This article was updated at 12.15pm to reflect the fact that Jimmy O’Brien turned 23 today.

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