Brian O'Driscoll: I remember Sean O'Brien getting into training ground tussles
Leinster flanker Sean O'Brien will return to the Ireland side for this Saturday's visit of Argentina in what will be the Lions backrower's first match for Ireland in nearly a year.
O'Brien has played just five matches for Leinster this season after another injury stricken year but he earns the nod ahead of provincial teammates Josh van der Flier and Dan Leavy and former teammate Brian O'Driscoll insists that O'Brien remains Ireland's first-choice openside and that he has built up so much trust with the playing group that his lack of gametime this season won't really matter much to those in the squad.
"There are some intangibles with Seanie," O'Driscoll said ahead of the Guinness series.
"I think the confidence he brings when you see his name on the teamsheet and the experience of having done it before. I can't think of too many bad games that Sean has ever had. He is so confrontational and so aggressive that there's no backwards step in him and it's comforting to see that in one of your leaders and main ball carriers.
"A guy that can be destructive but also has really developed his skillset. There's an aura to Seanie. It's the unknowns that players have that when they've played with someone they have an appreciation for them and I think you'd see that in a lot of the older players, they love having Sean in their team.
"He was great last season. Josh has been excellent this year, Jordi Murphy has done nothing wrong but when everyone is fit I still like Sean O'Brien as my openside starting for the World Cup because he's rated and he's got respect from those that he's played with and those that he's played against and he's done it over a long period of time.
"We're in a fortunate position that we've got great sevens but I think with everyone fit, playing at their best, Sean is still number one."
O'Brien is one of only two players in the Ireland squad that have been selected for multiple Lions tours and he's the only player among the current matchday squad to have won the ERC European Player of the Year award.
The Tullow native was first capped by Ireland in 2009 and he won the European Player of the Year award just two years later at age 24, just three years into his career with Leinster. Physicality, combativeness and aggression have been hallmarks of his play and O'Driscoll said that those traits that we see today from O'Brien have very much been there from his early days at Leinster.
"There's less fisticuffs but I remember him getting in pretty fractious tussles at times and there's no backwards step from him," added O'Driscoll.
"You grow an appreciation of that when it happens with young players. He was respectful but he would not take a backwards step. You could see that in a 20 or 21-year-old that you've got something there.
"He's the sort of player that if you rub up the wrong way he can do serious damage to you in training and those sort of players are always frightening to have in your environment but that you're thankful to have on your side.
"He's a real leader. You can hear his voice on every ref cam, every scrum, every ruck, he's a Duracell bunny. He just constantly does not stop and that brings a confidence. Some would say that when you verbalise for 80 minutes that's a sign that he's fit, because if you're not, the first thing that goes is the chat. He's the ultimate communicator as well and yeah I think he's a terrific player."
Ireland will be without Conor Murray, Garry Ringrose and Rob Kearney for this weekend's game but O'Driscoll added that he thinks that this team, and in particular this forward pack, is close to the strongest team available to Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt and a side he would be comfortable backing at next year's Rugby World Cup in Japan.
"Yeah I think that’s the strongest pack that we have. Murray, Ringrose and Kearney are the other three that you’d imagine would be included so yeah I think it’s a really strong team I think Joe really feels as though Argentina are still a bogey team for us he’s still scarred from that World Cup quarter-final.
"I’m scarred by them from 99 and 07, so they’ve been a team that have consistently upset us in big games. They’re a side to be reckoned with and they play some great rugby. They're a little bit porous in defence but you can fix that, what they can do in attack is very exciting and I think they will really test us.
"They’re the sort of side who need to test us. It’s great because our one Achilles heel is that we go narrow and they will exploit that if we go narrow."
Dublin, 9th November 2018: Ahead of the Guinness Series kicking off this weekend, former Irish international rugby player Brian O’Driscoll was on hand to preview Ireland’s game against Argentina as a part of Guinness’ #AnswerIrelandsCall campaign. #AnswerIrelandsCall celebrates the camaraderie between rugby fans, by giving them a voice and rallying them to get behind the Irish Rugby team. Throughout the series fans are encouraged to get involved as Guinness is giving away a number of pairs of tickets to each fixture including the sold out Ireland v New Zealand game at the Aviva Stadium. Fans should visit the Guinness Facebook page and leave their message of support using the #AnswerIrelandsCall to be in with a chance to win tickets to the Guinness Series (terms and conditions apply) *.
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