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O'Brien happy with the 'dirty work' as he looks to hit his peak for Ireland

The 30-year-old openside has been steadily growing in form in the Six Nations.

SEAN O’BRIEN ISN’T one to beat around the bush and when he’s playing well, he’s happy to say as much.

Three games into the Six Nations, the Ireland openside is content with that he has delivered so far for Joe Schmidt’s side.

Sean O'Brien O'Brien has started all three games for Ireland so far. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“Pretty happy,” is O’Brien’s assessment of his own form ahead of tonight’s pivotal clash with Wales in Cardiff [KO 8.05pm].

“I’m busy, so I am, throughout the field and I’m getting through a lot of work, a lot of probably dirty work. So yeah, I’m feeling pretty good.”

On the outside, there have been a few suggestions that O’Brien has yet to show his best form and it is clear that there is scope for more. But the 30-year-old is judged to the very highest standard by Ireland fans and critics, particularly in the ball-carrying department.

He made two linebreaks with his 14 carries against Scotland, one of them involving a powerful fend after a clever dummy pass to Paddy Jackson as the out-half ran a loop play.

Against Italy, there were 16 carries and two defenders beaten, while the France victory saw O’Brien rack up 13 carries and beat three defenders.

His ruck numbers, meanwhile, have been as high as ever, with a total of 41 contributions in the championship-opening defeat to Scotland setting a tone for the Tullow man, particularly in how he competed on opposition ball. His set-piece work has been strong too.

“I don’t think there’s a different emphasis,” says O’Brien of his role in the Ireland back row. “I think if you look at the last day, for instance, there was no line breaks or anything like that.

“It was a kind of a bit more attritional against the French and you have to be as tidy as you can with your carries and little small things; rucks and bits and pieces towards the maul and keeping the scrum going.

Sean O'Brien O'Brien is happy to do the donkey work for Ireland. Source: Colm O'Neill/INPHO

“So it wasn’t a very open game, I don’t think, for us back rowers, but we had to do the donkey work.

“Obviously having CJ and Jamie there, there are more people carrying, so I’m probably letting them do a bit more work!”

While Ireland’s back row has been performing well in this Six Nations, some feel there is a slight lack of balance, most notably in what the trio offer at lineout time.

Former Ireland head coach Eddie O’Sullivan has been among those to suggest that Ireland would benefit from starting Peter O’Mahony on the blindside, with O’Brien potentially making way, but Schmidt has opted against change today.

The competition in Ireland’s back row has always been fierce, and O’Brien says that O’Mahony’s presence continues to keep the starters on their toes.

“You know with Pete on the bench that you have to keep the shoulder to the wheel, and it’s the same when Josh [van der Flier] is there.

“We’ve got Dan Leavy and Jack Conan in camp now as well and they’re all pushing. It’s a great thing to have in the squad, it drives each other.”

O’Brien’s most recent memories of the Principality Stadium are not good ones.

Ireland lost to Wales in the 2015 version of tonight’s tie, while he was banned as a result of punching Pascal Papé in the 2015 World Cup pool stage win over France at this venue, forced to watch from the stands of the same stadium as Argentina beat Schmidt’s men in the quarter-final of the tournament.

Sean O'Brien O'Brien during Ireland's captain's run yesterday. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

With tonight’s encounter expected to hit ferocious emotional heights, O’Brien is keen to ensure that he channels his aggression in the right way this time around.

He admits he has let the emotion “get the better of me before,” but feels he understands exactly how to channel the energy now.

“Yeah, I don’t do it too often,” says O’Brien. “I probably have done a few times in my career, yeah, but it’s about channelling it in the right direction, probably, is the biggest thing.

“Making sure I’ve a cool head and do my own job, looking after what I have to do, rather than looking after what other people have to do or what the referee is doing.”

With a cool head and his body moving back towards peak condition, we may see the very best of O’Brien in Cardiff tonight.

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Murray Kinsella

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