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O'Brien praises Italy's 'smart' tactics but says he would have known the rules

The flanker sat out today’s open training session after suffering a head injury on Saturday.

SEAN O’BRIEN HAS praised Italy’s ‘smart and clever’ tactical approach during yesterday’s Six Nations meeting with England, but says he would have known the rules in order to combat it.

Marco Fuser and Dylan Hartley Italy's tactics have got a lot of people talking. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Conor O’Shea’s side opted not to compete at the breakdown, employing a ‘no-ruck’ strategy, at Twickenham and it caused confusion among the England ranks before the hosts pulled clear in the second half.

Eddie Jones, who insisted it was ‘not rugby’ and said the crowd should get a refund, watched his side struggle to adapt to the Azzurri gameplan as they refused to commit men to the breakdown, meaning there was no offside and blue shirts were then free to step out of the line and cut down the space available to England.

It may be an unusual tactic, but certainly isn’t new, and speaking after Ireland’s open training session at the Aviva Stadium, O’Brien admitted it was a commendable approach.

“England dealt with it in the end but in fairness to the Italians they were very clever and smart in the way they went about their game plan,” the flanker said.

“So you have to hand it to hand it to them too, but you have to adapt to those situations if they arise and it took England a little bit to do that.

“They caught them on the hop probably. There is a free-flow effect on it because the Italians weren’t putting anyone into the breakdown. Once they got a bit of momentum the Italians were hopping (up) off the ground, they got excited and were in the game straight away.

“That’s what kept them in it until halftime. England did the job in the end.”

Sean O'Brien signs autographs for fans O'Brien sat out today's open training session. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Asked if Ireland would have been able to deal with something similiar if Italy used the tactic in Rome a few weekends ago, O’Brien added: “Yeah, absolutely. Up the jumpers stuff.

“I certainly would have known the rules around it anyway, once you’re prepared properly for situations like that then it can work in your favour too. You have to be on your toes in situations like that and get everyone on the same page quickly.”

Ireland’s scrum coach Greg Feek said: “We’ve seen it before in Super Rugby and I know South African teams have used it before, it’s not a new tactic.

“Sometimes if a team hasn’t used it before then it’s a good change up and it might have just rattled the English a little bit but they still managed to come away with a win. It just shows again the game can just change in so many ways and that’s definitely one that gets everyone a bit interested.”

O’Brien sat out this morning’s session after he sustained a head injury during the 19-9 win over France at the weekend but there is no concern around the Leinster forward’s fitness ahead of the trip to Cardiff on Friday week.

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Having had very little game time before the start of this championship, O’Brien has worked his way back to peak fitness and says he feels good after three outings.

Joe Schmidt’s men now head away for a week’s rest before beginning preparations for Wales on Saturday when the squad regather at Carton House.

“The breaks are important and that’s why they are there,” O’Brien continued. “That’s why they are put in place during the championship. They know what we go through. It’s very important to have a few days off.

Sean O'Brien O'Brien played 68 minutes on Saturday before going off with a head injury. Source: Colm O'Neill/INPHO

“It is good for your mind as well as you body to make sure you switch off, rest and recover as well as possible. The last few weeks have been heavy pegging and the next few are going to be the same. It’s easy to switch off and relax at home for a few days, not think about rugby for a few days.”

The break comes at a good time for Ireland to recharge the batteries after a bruising encounter with Guy Noves’ French side, and O’Brien says the players go into it in a good space — their championship title tilt remains on track but there is also room for improvement.

“We stepped up to the mark but I think there’s more growth in us though and that’s the pleasing thing,” he said looking back on Saturday. “Overall you’d have to be happy with the result.

“Every game we go into we want to put our best foot forward and come out in the best shape and next week is no different. Wales will be hurting from last weekend and we’ll have to prepare very well.

“The preparations started today with the lads out there and that will carry on when we meet up next weekend. We’ll have to go over there and make sure we have all the boxes ticked.

“As I said I think there’s still room for improvement there, which is always a great thing. We got some things right at the weekend and we didn’t get other things right. We were a little bit sloppy in different areas and we lost a few balls at times so if we get those little one percenters it will hopefully add to our game.

“There’s lots of things to tidy up but it will make a huge difference.”

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