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Dublin: 1°C Friday 23 April 2021

Returning SOB and Six Nations champions boost O'Connor's Leinster

The Australian head coach says the likes of Jamie Heaslip have brought a ‘very positive vibe’ back with them.

LEINSTER COACH MATT O’Connor is confident that Leinster’s returning international stars such as Jamie Heaslip, Sean O’Brien and Rob Kearney will have a telling impact in Saturday’s Champions Cup quarter-final clash with Bath at the Aviva Stadium.

Sean O'Brien Sean O'Brien will make his second Leinster appearance of the season this weekend.

The eastern province welcomed the likes of Ian Madigan, Eoin Reddan and Marty Moore back into their XV for last weekend’s draw with Glasgow Warriors in the Guinness Pro12, but will be further bolstered this weekend by the full range of their Ireland contingent.

That O’Brien, who has played just a single game for Leinster this season so far, returns in full health is a major boost for O’Connor as Mike Ford’s classy Bath side visit Dublin.

“The Test boys have come back into the environment and trained really well and given us a very positive vibe, which has been positive this week,” said O’Connor in UCD this afternoon.

Buoyed by their Six Nations triumph under Joe Schmidt just last month, the likes of captain Heaslip, Kearney, Cian Healy and Luke Fitzgerald [presumably back in the starting team] are eager to keep winning.

“They have come back in a very good mental state, obviously off the back of the success they had with Ireland and, thankfully, physically in a lot better place than we were this time last year,” said O’Connor.

Jamie Heaslip Heaslip speaks to his Leinster teammates at training this week. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“The Six Nations took a pretty physical toll on the lads last year [2014], especially the last game against France, which beat up a lot of the guys. But [this year] they’re physically in a very good place and very excited about the challenge Bath pose.”

There will be particular focus on the impact of Carlow native O’Brien on Saturday, given the explosive manner in which he won the man-of-the-match award on his most recent Ireland outing against Scotland.

Destructive ball carrying, set-piece excellence, breakdown dominance and powerful defensive hits; all the old Tullow Tank habits were on display at Murrayfield last month and Leinster believe O’Brien can carry that form into the Bath fixture.

“I’m not worried about Seanie, he’s absolutely fine,” said Heaslip this afternoon. “He was fine in his first game back against France. As he said himself, he was blowing hard after about 20 minutes but once he got over that and got a second wind, he was grand.

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“Seanie is the type of player that’ll stay in it for the full 80 and he’ll keep kind of grinding it out if he has to. But when he gets those chances… you saw it against Scotland.

Sean O'Brien What's that coming over the hill? Is it a monster? Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“If you don’t respect him as a ball carrier and give him half a chance, he’s a very, very hard man to stop. He’s very tenacious like that.”

O’Brien last played for his province on 6 September, 2014, when Leinster opened their Pro12 campaign with an away defeat to Glasgow Warriors. A repeat of his shoulder surgery meant being sidelined thereafter, until Schmidt re-introduced him to rugby in the Six Nations.

Leinster now look likely to be the beneficiaries as O’Brien re-enters the fray fit and firing.

He’s a competitor, he fights for everything and he expects the same out of the blokes next to him,” said O’Connor.

“That’s fantastic and it certainly takes the pressure off Jamie in a leadership capacity because he knows he’ll have Seanie there right beside him, regardless of the minutes or circumstances.

“He’s been fantastic this week, I thought his form against Scotland and throughout the Six Nations he got better with every minute he played. To have him back, relatively fresh, at this stage of the season is a huge bonus.”

O’Connor confirmed that Australian lock Kane Douglas will not play any part in the meeting with Bath as he continues to struggle with a hamstring/back issue, thought Leinster are hopeful Douglas will return to the selection mix next weekend.

Eoin Reddan trained today and is available to face Bath.

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Murray Kinsella

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