Looking Up

Leinster's O'Brien takes inspiration from Keenan and Connors' rise to Ireland caps

The 22-year-old back has impressed for the province in recent weeks.

THEY WILL BE wearing green jerseys in Paris tomorrow evening as they win their second Ireland caps, and Will Connors and Hugo Keenan will serve as an inspiration to the next wave of players looking to break through in Leinster.

This time last year was when Connors and Keenan really started to kick on with the Leinster senior team, taking advantage of Ireland internationals being away to make a big impression in blue.

Keenan nailed down the number 15 shirt as Connors impressed at openside and the pair of them haven’t looked back since, going on to earn their European debuts for Leinster upon the post-lockdown restart of rugby and pushing on to win their first Ireland caps last weekend against Italy. 

tommy-obrien-runs-in-a-try 22-year-old Tommy O'Brien scored two tries against Zebre last weekend. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

That swift rise is a timely reminder for the youngsters back in Leinster of just how important this time of the season is, with Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster’s men currently preparing for Monday night’s visit to Glasgow Warriors in the Pro14.

22-year-old Tommy O’Brien is among those who impressed last weekend against Zebre, scoring two tries from the right wing on what was his second senior start for Leinster.

“Look at this block last year and you’ve got guys like Will and Hugo, who have now made their Ireland debuts, who stepped up during that period last year, so seeing that gives you a bit of hope that maybe down the line you can follow those footsteps,” says O’Brien.

“The coaches would talk about this period while the internationals are away as ‘owning the jersey,’ so you want to make a claim for it and make sure the Irish guys don’t just walk straight back into the team.”

O’Brien is good friends with Keenan’s younger brother, Andrew, and was thrilled to watch his two Leinster team-mates make their debuts as he sets about making his own mark with the province.

Former Blackrock College student O’Brien showed his promise in captaining the Ireland U20s in 2018 before he struggled with injuries in his second season with the Leinster academy. He got a debut last season, however, and had earned three caps before Covid-19 cut the campaign short.

Now on his first senior contract, he has had two involvements so far this season, coming off the bench against the Dragons and starting on the wing last weekend. Though he played much of his underage rugby in midfield, the combative O’Brien says he’s happy to play on the wing if that’s what Leinster need.

leinsters-tommy-obrien The combative O'Brien is a former Ireland U20 captain. Inpho / Billy Stickland Inpho / Billy Stickland / Billy Stickland

“We like to play a lot of unstructured rugby anyway so it’s not too rigid in that you’re on the wing, you can work off and slot into different places,” says O’Brien

“You might have number 14 on your back but you’re just an outside back.”

O’Brien was also superb in the recent Leinster A game against Ulster and feels he has benefitted from that layer of the development pathway, having helped the province to their Celtic Cup glory last year.

“In terms of keeping match fit and sharp, it’s crucial. You’re also playing with guys you’ve been training with and you’re playing the same system as we play with the Leinster seniors so when you do get the call-up, you can slot in seamlessly.”

O’Brien is keen to build on his five Leinster caps in the coming weeks and months while a European debut is an obvious goal over the course of the 2020/21 season.

But while O’Brien is hoping to nail down a place and follow in Keenan and Connors’ footsteps, he also points out that there is more talent behind him in the Leinster pathway.

“You know there are more guys coming through the academy and if you don’t perform, they’re going to hop in and more than likely perform. It’s great because everyone is pushing, you can never get complacent.”

Pragmatists Bernard Jackman and Murray Kinsella join the deludedly optimistic Gavan Casey to look ahead to the big one in Paris:

The42 Rugby Weekly / SoundCloud

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel