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'I'd be lying if I said I didn't think about it': O'Brien on potential RDS farewell

The London Irish-bound flanker captains Leinster for tomorrow’s Pro14 clash against Glasgow.

SEÁN O’BRIEN ADMITS the prospect of running out at the RDS in a Leinster jersey for the final time has crossed his mind as he prepares to captain the province in tomorrow’s Guinness Pro14 game against Glasgow Warriors [KO 3pm, eir Sport/Premier Sports].

O’Brien, who will leave Leinster at the end of the season to join London Irish, returns to Leo Cullen’s starting XV for the visit of the Scottish side to Dublin, partnering Josh Murphy and Caelan Doris in the back row.

Sean O'Brien O'Brien captains Leinster against Glasgow. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

The 32-year-old has made just four starts for Leinster this season and although Cullen’s side have already booked a Pro14 home semi-final next month, O’Brien is very aware that tomorrow could be his final game at the RDS.

“Yeah, absolutely,” he said, when asked if he had thought about it.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it so it is a little bit more special, firstly to lead out the lads, and secondly that it could be potentially my last game in the RDS. It’s one I’m really looking forward to and should be a cracker of a game.

“I’ve been at peace with it [the move] now for a while. There are seven or eight weeks left in the season and that’s what I’m focusing on now and not really thinking about much else.

“That’s the exciting part of being in this group, we’re in the business end of the season and a lot of exciting games coming up. That’s at the forefront of my mind.”

After being given time off last week, O’Brien is intent on producing a strong performance against Glasgow to put him in a good position to start next weekend’s Heineken Champions Cup semi-final against Toulouse.

The Ireland international — who has endured another injury-disrupted season — played 80 minutes against Ulster in the quarter-final and following season-ending injuries to Dan Leavy and Josh van der Flier, there is even greater importance on O’Brien’s form and fitness from a Leinster point of view.

With Max Deegan performing excellently in the number seven jersey, O’Brien will be keen to lay down a marker against Dave Rennie’s side eight days out from a European semi-final. 

“Yeah, absolutely,” he agrees, when asked if tomorrow is a good chance to build match sharpness. “That’s been the case the last few weeks, to get back to myself as much as I can. I’m pretty happy with the last two games and my involvements in those two games.

“Hopefully I build on that again tomorrow and do well. I’m looking forward to it.

“You think about the group and how you can add as much value as you can and make sure you’re preparing them as best as possible regardless of whether you’re in the team or not. That’s what I want to do tomorrow first of all, to lead my example and make sure we’re in a good place going into those big games.”

Leinster are also boosted by the return to fitness of Devin Toner and Robbie Henshaw for tomorrow’s round 20 encounter, as the Ireland duo prepare to make their first appearances since the Six Nations defeat to England in February.

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Devin Toner Toner's return is a timely boost. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

With Mick Kearney ruled out for the rest of the campaign with the shoulder injury he sustained against Benetton last weekend, Toner’s comeback is well-timed as the second row partners 20-year-old Jack Dunne in the Leinster engine room.

“To have that experience coming into the group at this stage of the season, and with huge games coming up, is important for us,” Leo Cullen said at this afternoon’s pre-match press conference, hosted by MS Ireland, one of Leinster’s charity partners this season.

“Robbie as well, he’s had a frustrating time of it since early in the Six Nations. Him coming back is well timed and it’s a great chance for guys again this week against a very difficult Glasgow team. They’re very physical and abrasive, particularly around the contact area, so it’ll be a good test for our guys.”

While Toner brings a wealth of experience and leadership to the forward pack, academy second row Dunne is rewarded with his first senior start after a number of impressive cameos off the bench.

The former Ireland U20 lock replaced Kearney during the first half last week and put in a huge defensive shift, making 28 tackles during his 50 minutes on the field, and Cullen is pleased to see him get a starting opportunity tomorrow.

“It’s great, Jack has worked hard,” the head coach continued. “It’s good to have that experience beside him in Dev, so it takes a lot of pressure off him. He’s trained well this week having come into the team last week.

He has had a couple of other involvements this season and it’s just another layer of experience for him. He goes about his business and is another physical lump. He gets through a lot of work and it’s another step in his development.

With one eye very much on Toulouse, Cullen has also recalled the likes of Rob Kearney, Jordan Larmour, Ross Byrne and Jamison Gibson-Park to his starting XV, with Sean Cronin, Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong among those named on the bench.

“We had a less experienced team last week, who acquitted themselves pretty well,” Cullen added.

“For us, it’ll be about how we manage possession tomorrow. It’s a great chance for guys this week with what’s ahead. 

“We’ve got a semi-final next week and hopefully we can progress there, but there’s another semi-final in the Pro14 as well. There are some huge games and everyone wants to be involved in the big games.

“We need the group to keep moving forward and thankfully we’ve built up a bit of a buffer in our conference so we’re able to manage the group well.”

MS Ireland, one of Leinster’s charity partners for the 2018/19 season, will be holding bucket collections during and after Saturday’s Pro14 game at the RDS.

Gavan Casey and Murray Kinsella are joined by Bernard Jackman to discuss Izzy Folau’s impending sacking by Australia and all the week’s news on the latest episode of The42 Rugby Weekly:

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Ryan Bailey

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