THE ‘TULLOW TANK’ has been an emblematic player for Ireland for some years now, but at the age of 28 he takes the next step up the international hierarchy by captaining his country for the first time.
O’Brien is a happy man.
He’s performed the honour for Leinster in the past, and was thrilled when Joe Schmidt announced to the squad his decision to install the Carlow man as skipper early this week.
Regular captain Paul O’Connell is in reserve for tomorrow’s meeting with Scotland in Dublin, but this is O’Brien’s opportunity to lead by more than his usual explosive example. Indeed, it’s an achievement that was part of his rugby bucket list.
“I was absolutely delighted to be asked,” said O’Brien at the Aviva Stadium after Ireland’s captain’s run this afternoon. “It’s a great honour and something I’ve probably always wanted to do at some point. I’m very happy.
While O’Brien may have to carry out a few different duties in terms of the coin toss, dealing the referee Pascal Gaüzère and so on, he says his approach to the game has been no different than any other Test match.
“It’s the same role for me,” said O’Brien. “I’ll go out and do what I can for the team, being captain is just an added little thing to it. It doesn’t change anything from my mindset coming into the game.”
That’s just as well, with Ireland fans looking forward to the back row’s bullocking ball carrying and dynamic work in defence and at the breakdown, as well as his ability to offload. Re-positioned to number eight for his tie, O’Brien is back in a role that is quite familiar to him.
Ireland at their captain’s run this afternoon. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
The hope is that the slight change of duties may mean even more carrying chances for one of Ireland’s most destructive and effective attacking weapons.
“It’s a little bit different obviously within the game plan and the system but I’m very comfortable playing at eight and would have spent most of my earlier days in that position,” said O’Brien.
Having had to sit at home and watch the likes of Jamie Heaslip, Jordi Murphy, Tommy O’Donnell and Chris Henry get the first crack of the whip in Wales last weekend, O’Brien is simply excited to be back in action himself.
“Pre-season is one of those times where you just looked forward to playing and getting out there. It’s the same for every other player and that’s what gets you match fit. I’m looking forward to that aspect and after a bit of a blow-out you feel the benefits of the pre-season.”
We can be certain that O’Brien won’t be lacking in effort and aggression as he achieves an honour he has been looking forward to in a major way.
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