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O'Brien excited to link with Kidney and Kiss at ambitious London Irish

The 32-year-old flanker says the move it about being part of a new project.

SEAN O’BRIEN WON’T come cheap for London Irish, earning more than €400,000 per season over a three-year contract, but the signing makes sense on a couple of levels for the ambitious English club.

O’Brien has had his injury travails, that much is well established, but he remains utterly confident that his body can deliver long after this year’s World Cup.

“I’ve always said it’s the big things that break with me,” said O’Brien yesterday, admitting that he had pushed the Exiles for the third year of his deal.

Sean O'Brien 32-year-old O'Brien will move after the World Cup. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“If I break enough of them they can’t break again hopefully. I don’t have mileage on the clock these past two years, that was a big part of it too.

“So, if I can get myself back battled-hardened again and match fit, I think my body’s in great shape otherwise.”

If the Carlow man can keep fit, he’s a world-class back row. Joe Schmidt is a fine judge of players and remains loyal to O’Brien whenever he’s available for selection.

His return to Ireland’s starting team against Scotland two weekends ago was a reminder of his enduring quality. So, that’s the first box ticked – London Irish are getting a fine player.

Secondly, he’s a leader. Schmidt is a fan of O’Brien’s communication and vocal presence, both on and off the pitch.

At Leinster, the same has applied for the past decade.

“Sean is always a big voice in the squad,” said emerging Leinster back row Caelan Doris this week. “In all the meetings, he always has a point of view and little tips here and there.

“He is a great guy to learn off. I’ve learned quite a bit off the pitch, just how he looks after himself.”

This leadership and mentoring ability is another aspect that attracted London Irish director of rugby Declan Kidney and head coach Les Kiss to O’Brien as they rebuild for the Premiership.

Declan Kidney with Sean O'Brien Kidney and O'Brien at Ireland training in 2013. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“I know it’s not going to be a case of going in there and changing bits and pieces over a year but over the three years hopefully I can develop a lot of the younger guys for them and the environment that we’re in and pass on a lot of the experience that I have from our own environments to theirs,” said O’Brien of that task.

There is also a commercial element to signing O’Brien. While he is coming at a cost, he is sure to bring a flood of new support to a club that is keen to rekindle its links with the large Irish community in the UK.

With a move into Brentford FC’s new stadium in West London planned for the summer of 2020 – bringing to an end the Madejski Stadium in Reading era – a big-name Irish signing like O’Brien is sure to put bums on seats, particularly expat Irish people living in the capital city.

With Australia internationals Nick Phipps and Curtis Rona, as well as Scotland prop Allan Dell, also confirmed as signings ahead of next season, the London Irish squad will be upgraded.

It’s expected that Paddy Jackson and All Blacks wing Waisake Naholo will also be announced before the summer, as Kidney and Kiss prepare for life in the Premiership, with Irish currently nine points clear at the top of the Championship.

O’Brien, of course, knows Kidney and Kiss very well, having worked with them in Ireland.

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That meant that O’Brien ignored offers from elsewhere to sign with London Irish.

“The big thing was Deccie and Les, the lads know me and know what I am about and I had a great relationship with them, always had,” said O’Brien. “What they wanted to achieve over there fitted with what I wanted to achieve as well.

Sean O'Brien and Les Kiss O'Brien and Les Kiss in 2015. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“So, you know, for me, do I look at this club or these other clubs that mightn’t have any type of culture or vision as such but just want to try and win things?

“I think what Deccie is trying to do over there is create a special environment to try and succeed at some point in the future rather than bringing a load of people together to just try and win big games and not have long-term goals.

“Hopefully, when I leave there, London Irish will be in a better place than when I find it after Christmas.”

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Murray Kinsella

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