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'One of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make': London Irish confirm Sean O'Brien signing

The Tullow Tank has agreed to join London Irish from December.

O'Brien applauds the crowd in the Aviva after the win over Munster.
O'Brien applauds the crowd in the Aviva after the win over Munster.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

LONDON IRISH HAVE today confirmed the signing of Leinster, Ireland and Lions back row Sean O’Brien.

The Carlow man, who will turn 32 later this week, has committed to a deal which will begin in December, after this year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan.

As The42 reported last week, the switch will end O’Brien’s stint as a senior professional with his native province after 11 years. In that time he has played 122 times and been present, either on the field or behind the scenes, for four European Cup wins and three Celtic League titles.

His excellent performance in Ireland’s Six Nations win over Scotland on Saturday was his 59th Test cap, including the five won on tours with the Lions in 2013 and 2017. He will hope to trouble the 70 mark before the World Cup is out.

“I’m keen to roll up the sleeves and use my experience to help re-establish London Irish as a top club in England,” O’Brien said in a statement released by his future employer. In an announcement released by Leinster, meanwhile, he said:

“This is one of the hardest decisions that I have ever had to make. I have played all my rugby in Ireland. With Tullow, with Leinster and with Ireland and to move from the place I call home and that I love so much, was not easy.

“That being said, I feel that the time has come to explore other opportunities, to challenge myself at a new environment, in a new city, with a new club and against different players and teams on a weekly basis.”

London Irish are currently in the second tier of English rugby, but are cruising towards promotion and recruiting O’Brien is a major statement of their intent on return to the Premiership.

“Seán has been a key driver of Leinster Rugby’s success over the last 10 years and played a pivotal role in our four Heineken Cup-winning seasons,” says head coach Leo Cullen.

“He has not only been a world class player on the field, but has also made an incredible impact in growing the game all over the province. He has also been a model professional and a shining example to our young and academy players.

As a teammate, Seán was the sort of competitor you always wanted beside you. He is the kind of player who gives you the confidence that anything is possible – nothing fazes him and he always led from the front.”

On top of a reported €400,000 per year contract, the presence of former Ireland coaches Les Kiss and Declan Kidney at the Exiles will surely have played some role in tempting O’Brien away from home.

Kidney, who re-entered rugby by taking up the director of rugby position with Irish last season, awarded O’Brien his international debut in November 2009.

“We are always on the lookout for players of Sean’s ability,” said Kidney.

Sean O'Brien celebrates with the trophy O'Brien celebrates the Lions win over Australia. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Sean has proven himself time and time again to be a quality player who sets very high standards for himself and those around him, he leads by example and has a winning mentality.”

Meanwhile, Leinster today confirmed that Devin Toner is set for eight weeks on the sidelines after ankle surgery, a timeframe which rules him out of the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final against Ulster. 

Fergus McFadden has returned to full training and will hope to push for a place against Zebre, but openside Dan Leavy will remain sidelined as he rehabs a calf issue.

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Sean Farrell

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