Sean O’Brien: Work of the provinces behind Ireland’s rise to rugby summit

Sean O’Brien: Work of the provinces behind Ireland’s rise to rugby summit

Sean O’Brien cleared his mind with a morning’s farm work, then switched on to analyse Leinster’s Champions Cup clash at Gloucester.

The contact skills coach does not always travel away with Leinster, but will never miss studying a match.

Some hard graft on the Carlow farm, or maybe even some clay pigeon shooting, can serve as a new type of pre-match warm-up.

So when the former Ireland flanker took in Leinster’s 49-14 dismantling of Gloucester on Saturday on the TV, the 35-year-old was scrutinising the latest show of strength from not just the Dublin province but also the whole Irish system.

Ireland are not top of the World Rugby rankings by default, with the 56-cap O’Brien full of praise for a seamless system that continues to draw envious glances from England’s more delineated club and country set-ups.

“I’m down on the farm a lot to be fair, you’re in your own little space and can clear the head,” O’Brien told Standard Sport.

“Farming and clay pigeon shooting are probably the two things where I don’t think of anything else, so it’s a total break from rugby. Any type of farming is tough, but it’s more of a lifestyle than a real money-maker in Ireland.

“If I’ve not travelled with Leinster then I’ll watch, take notes on different elements that I might see and then can refresh with the lads in the week.

“The system in Ireland, it’s down to the union. They want good coaches in the provinces, because at international level you don’t get that much time.

“What’s done day-in, day-out in the provinces is very, very important to Ireland.

“And it’s worked in Ireland for a while now, for consistency, sharing of knowledge, and what we’re all doing as provinces to put the national team in a really good place as well.”

O’Brien has enjoyed a seamless transition from his decorated playing days to a promising coaching career with Leinster.

Sean O’Brien retired from professional rugby at the end of last season (Getty Images)
Sean O’Brien retired from professional rugby at the end of last season (Getty Images)

The Lions back-rower retired on his own terms last summer, ending a three-year stint at London Irish.

With coaching long since in mind for life beyond the field, O’Brien’s development can only be accelerated by working with the experienced, sharp rugby minds of Leo Cullen, Stuart Lancaster, Robin McBryde and Andrew Goodman.

“I was able to step away from the playing side altogether, it’s been a good transition. In a new role your mindset switches straight away,” said O’Brien.

“Coaching was always something I enjoyed doing and wanted to get into more after playing. The set-up is organised, driven and has everything you need to be successful.

“Leo (Cullen) was my captain for years, I’ve so much respect for him, he’s a great man, a great person, he knows what Leinster’s about. He has the vision and the bigger picture always in his head.

“He’s the first one in in the morning and the last one to leave at night.

“And with Stuart (Lancaster) you have this magnitude of coaching ability, how he’s able to run sessions and big groups, and he’s so much knowledge. He’s a Test coach who just loves coaching and loves the mindset part of the game as well.

“The wealth of experience of all the coaches, you’re taking bits and pieces off them all.”

Stuart Lancaster is currently senior coach at Leinster (Getty Images)
Stuart Lancaster is currently senior coach at Leinster (Getty Images)

The pandemic denied O’Brien a testimonial match, so a string of events will be held now instead – starting with a dinner at London’s Hilton Park Lane on Friday, January 27.

After all his playing achievements including reaching two World Cups and twice claiming Champions Cup glory, O’Brien still has pride in becoming the first rugby star to return to action after a hip resurfacing operation.

“We couldn’t have a testimonial game because of Covid,” said O’Brien.

“So it will be great now to have a chance to say thank you to people who have supported me along the way.

“From starting in Tullow RFC, to UCD, then Leinster academy, all the way, there’s so many people involved. It’s important to acknowledge that now.

“It’s a chance to close that chapter, I suppose. I was able to retire on my own terms and I’m still very proud that I was able to get back to playing and be the first to do so with a stainless-steel hip.

“I probably thought earlier in my career that with different injuries it might not end the way I wanted, but to prove myself again after those surgeries was massive.”

• To buy tickets for Sean O’Brien’s testimonial dinner at London’s Hilton Park Lane on Friday, January 27, log onto: www.seanobrienevent.com