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O'Brien's display against Munster bodes well for Joe Schmidt's Ireland

The 28-year-old was excellent on his return from an inner-ear issue.

MUNSTER PLAYED INTO his hands to a degree, but Sean O’Brien’s performance on Sunday evening in Thomond Park was a sharp reminder of his enduring quality.

Simon Zebo with Sean O'Brien O'Brien was man of the match in Thomond Park. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

After a frustrating period on the sidelines with vestibular impairment, an inner-ear issue that can affect the sufferer’s balance, the Tullow man was back to near his rampant best in Leinster’s 24-7 victory in Limerick.

This was O’Brien’s first appearance since the Champions Cup defeat to Wasps in November and his relentless work at the breakdown was the most obvious showcase of his hunger.

On a night when Leinster had much defending to do, the 28-year-old was to the forefront of the resistance with several impactful tackles. In attack, he was equally effective as he made yardage on all 12 of his carries.

I felt good,” said O’Brien afterwards. “I blowing hard at times, but felt good otherwise. It was a good performance. We knew it was going to be a tough game, spoke about a couple of things during the week. It’s pleasing to get a win down here.”

The onlooking Joe Schmidt will have taken encouragement from seeing a healthy O’Brien deliver this man-of-the-match performance, particularly given that the Six Nations is now less than six weeks away.

“I don’t know if it was scary but it was very frustrating,” said O’Brien of his battle with vestibular impairment. ”Thankfully now it’s sorted and Leinster have been very good with me, not rushing me back.”

The openside’s most recent outing in an Ireland jersey also saw him win the man-of-the-match award, though his punch on Pascal Papé early in that game meant he missed the World Cup quarter-final defeat to Argentina.

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The absence of Paul O’Connell is likely to be keenly felt by Ireland in 2016, meaning that a fit and firing O’Brien will be especially important. Shorn of their captain, Ireland need the next wave of leaders to step up.

Sean O'Brien receives the man of the match award from Colin Kenny Joe Schmidt will have been encouraged by O'Brien's display. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The muscular turnovers and tackles from O’Brien on Sunday signified his leadership, with his physical power often setting the tone for Leinster’s most impressive defensive sets.

With Munster enjoying more than 60% of the possession at Thomond Park, Leinster needed to deliver in that area.

“We take pride in our defence and it’s been working well in the last couple of weeks. We’ve been there or thereabouts in games and not finishing games the way we want to,” said O’Brien.

The D has certainly been a big aspect of it and tonight it was pretty good, obviously a lot of room for improvement too, but overall we can be happy with the defensive performance.”

It wasn’t just O’Brien’s carrying that stood out when Leinster attacked; his pass to release Garry Ringrose for the break that led to Isa Nacewa’s try was excellently-timed. Having put the outside centre away on the counter-attack, O’Brien joked that he might think about playing in midfield from now on.

“I might play a few games at centre, yeah! Sometimes you find yourself there and you’ve got backs in front of you and you can either run at them or use your hands.

“Garry was there, the space was there and he took off, it’s a simple enough one for me.”

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