Michelin Man
Wolfhounds relieved to have 'X-factor' of returning O'Brien on their side
The back row’s Leinster teammates came up with an unkind nickname during the early stages of his injury.

IT’S BEEN A long wait for fans of Tullow’s finest rugby export.

Friday evening sees Sean O’Brien makes his eagerly-awaited first appearance of a year that promises so much for Ireland. They defend their Six Nations title from next weekend and then look towards a World Cup in September and October.

Sean O'Brien Ryan Byrne / INPHO O'Brien is looking in peak condition ahead of the Saxons clash. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Getting O’Brien back to peak fitness and form in the coming weeks and months will be a priority for Joe Schmidt, given the 27-year-old’s world-class ability.

The first stop down that route – following two shoulder reconstructions in the last 14 months – is an appearance for the Ireland Wolfhounds against the England Saxons on Friday evening in Musgrave Park [KO 19.45].

We can safely say that the ultra-competitive O’Brien will be eyeing a start against Italy in Rome a week after this fixture, but for now, the rest of the Ireland Wolfhounds team are pleased to have O’Brien on their side.

Not that the likes of Fergus McFadden and the rest of the Leinster contingent went easy on O’Brien during his most recent spell on the sidelines.

Yeah, he couldn’t run for a while so we were getting into him, calling him the Michelin Man!” laughs McFadden when asked about O’Brien physical condition. “It was a bit of craic, but Seanie’s in great nick now and he’s been looking sharp out on the training pitch.

“He’s a massive player for Irish and Leinster rugby, so it’s great to see him back after all that trouble he had with the shoulder.”

O’Brien wears the seven shirt for the Wolfhounds in Cork against a strong Saxons side in what will be just his fifth game since December of 2013.

Sean O'Brien in action against Australia Dan Sheridan / INPHO O'Brien's most recent involvements with Ireland came in November 2013. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

There was a brief return at the beginning of the current season, before the flanker was forced to go under the knife again. O’Brien will look to forget those travails with his first carry or hit against the Saxons, and McFadden underlines the quality that his teammate can bring.

“He’s shown that he’s got an X-factor in fairness, you know? Between his carries, his work rate and his chat off the field as well, he is a real leader.

I’m sure he’ll be blowing with his first 80 minutes in a long time, but he’s a massive asset to Irish rugby.”

Dan McFarland has taken charge of the Wolfhounds this week, and the Connacht forwards coach was succinct in summing up where O’Brien stands ahead of his return.

“I’ve been here all week and Sean’s had a real bounce in his step,” said McFarland. “There’s a really hungry young man wanting to get back on the pitch.”

McFarland, Schmidt and the Ireland set-up will be joined by rugby fans across the nation in welcoming the high-quality flanker back into the game in Cork. The Saxons might be best advised not to get in his way.

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