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'He's been through a tough time, but it's great to see him back out there'

Seán O’Brien is back and ready to win his 52nd cap for Ireland this weekend, 12 months after his last.

HAVING HIT THE ground running on his latest comeback trail — appearing fitter, stronger and leaner than ever — Seán O’Brien will win his 52nd international cap almost a year to the week after his last.

It has been a tough road back for the Leinster flanker since his last appearance in green 12 months ago, but his inclusion in Joe Schmidt’s back row for Saturday’s Test against Argentina is a measure of the work he has put in. 

Sean O'Brien O'Brien looks in peak physical condition. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

O’Brien has built up his minutes steadily in recent weeks, easing his way back after a lengthy period on the sidelines with hip and shoulder problems, and returns to a pack which is retained en bloc from the meeting with the Pumas last November.

For all the options at Schmidt’s disposal, and the chopping and changing up front over the course of last season, the head coach’s selection for this weekend is interestingly informative.

O’Brien’s inclusion at openside alongside Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander sees him edge out Dan Leavy and Josh van der Flier, the former named on the bench as cover and the latter extremely unfortunate to miss out completely.

Tadhg Beirne, Jordi Murphy, Rhys Ruddock and Jack Conan won’t be involved either, another indication of just how strong the national team’s depth chart is presently.

But O’Brien, having missed last season’s Grand Slam win and tour victory in Australia, retains that ferocious ability to influence a game like few players in Schmidt’s squad, and the Kiwi’s back row selection gives an insight into his thinking for the All Blacks.

31-year-old O’Brien, whose last game in green was against the Pumas in the 28-19 win last Autumn, made an earlier-than-expected injury return against Connacht in September, and started Leinster’s marquee Pro14 fixture against Munster.

He got through an hour against Benetton a fortnight ago before working under Schmidt’s watchful eye at Carton House last week, all of which pointed to him being back in the frame as the first-choice seven.

“Seánie adds a massive amount to the group, not just through experience, but also through his leadership, adding a constant voice,” Tadhg Furlong said of his team-mate.

I know he’s been through a tough time through injury, but it’s great to see him back out there and as vocal as ever through his high-pitched voice. And I suppose leading us around the pitch.

His return sees the O’Mahony-O’Brien-Stander triumvirate reunited for Ireland’s second game of their autumnal schedule.

“For sure I’m excited,” Stander added. “He’s a guy who brings a lot of physicality and he’s a workhorse.

“He puts pressure on the breakdown, in defence he is unbelievable and he carries well as well. Looking forward to him being back.

“He’s trained well, he looks good and it’s good to have someone of his experience in the squad back.”


Source: Heineken Rugby Weekly on The42/SoundCloud

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Ryan Bailey

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