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Dublin: 8°C Friday 23 October 2020
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Birthday boy O'Brien relieved to survive late French onslaught

“You’re just getting up and trying to find a blue shirt.”

Image: James Crombie/INPHO

THE IRFU SUIT does a decent job of disguising the strain players have been through.

But with the beads of sweat settling on Sean O’Brien’s temples there could be no mistaking the effort he put in against France tonight.

Having pulled up agonisingly short of ending his 15-month international absence in Rome last week, the flanker somehow made it feel like he had never been away on his big birthday comeback.

“It was brilliant to get back out there,” says the man who turned 28 today. “The crowd were brilliant as well. That was one of the reasons I wanted to get back – to get out in that atmosphere.”

O’Brien didn’t just show up for duty. He repaid head coach Joe Schmidt’s faith in selecting him despite some outsider doubts. The Tullow Tank came back with a bang, 14 of them in a tackle count that was only bettered by Robbie Henshaw.

The openside admitted he was surprised to return to the field after being temporarily replaced while Rory Best was in the bin. However, though his lungs were burning and his arms could be seen resting on his head between phases, he felt his legs strong throughout a bruising second half.

“It was tough. There were a lot of big hits — close in that people may not have seen. It was a very physical game and there will be sore bodies tomorrow on this side, and their side. We expected that off the French. There are some very, very big players and they really got stuck into us in the second half.

You’re just getting up and trying to find a blue shirt. Just working and working. That’s what it’s all about. It’s about getting on the line. You’re running on adrenaline at that stage – a minute or two to go. We’ve seen before, in the past, when we’ve got caught so it’s very important to stick to the system and trust each other.”

That trust was clear to see from the stands in the Aviva Stadium as Ireland recorded their first back-to-back win over France since 2001. Though the hosts were on the back foot for long tracts of the game, for the most part their defensive shape and a monumental physical effort allowed Ireland to frustrate their visitors.

“There’s no panic out there,” O’Brien says proudly. “There are a lot of calm operators and our system doesn’t change, regardless of what’s going on. We had a lot of composure in the last five, 10 minutes. We relieved a lot of pressure but, at times, put ourselves under pressure.

“We survived though, and we’re massively relieved.”

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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