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28th Dec 2022

Cian Healy gesture meant Jimmy O’Brien got an enviable jersey swap after his Ireland debut

Patrick McCarry

irish rugby

Fair play to ‘Church’ on this one.

The two days around Jimmy O’Brien’s Ireland debut were about as whirlwind as a player can get. Fortunately, he had the likes of Garry Ringrose and Cian Healy looking out for him.

Back in November, O’Brien was called into an extended Ireland squad and expecting to be part of the ‘A’ team to face a New Zealand XV, at The RDS, on the Friday before the Test side welcomed South Africa to Aviva Stadium.

An injury to Robbie Henshaw saw him drafted into the Ireland squad, at short notice. O’Brien can still recall Andy Farrell stopping him in a hallway, at The Shelbourne hotel, and asking him, “Have you heard?”

“Heard what?” was O’Brien’s response, before the Ireland coach let him know he would be on the bench for that Springboks game. As it turned out, an injury to Stuart McCloskey, 26 minutes into the game, saw the Leinster star coming on to play a less familiar role at outside centre, against the world champions.

On House of Rugby [LISTEN from 22:10 below], O’Brien spoke about that late Ireland call-up, playing all three autumn Tests in different positions and the lovely Cian Healy gesture after his debut.

Cian HealyJonathan Sexton, left, Robert Baloucoune and Jimmy O’Brien of Ireland after the Bank of Ireland Nations Series match against South Africa at the Aviva Stadium. (Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile)

Jimmy O’Brien on Cian Healy gesture

When Andy Farrell brought Jimmy O’Brien on for an earlier than expected Ireland debut against South Africa, Garry Ringrose switched to inside centre and O’Brien played as a 13.

South Africa flung the entire kitchen suite at Ireland but the hosts held on to secure a 19-16 victory that was a marker laid down before their 2023 World Cup group stage encounter. O’Brien went on to play fullback against Fiji and on the wing against Australia.

During the Bank of Ireland Nations Series, the Kildare native got two nice jersey swaps. He commented:

“Thankfully, after the South Africa game, Cian Healy gave me his jersey to swap. And I swapped with Willie le Roux. He was No.23 for South Africa.

“So I got to keep my two first cap jerseys. Against Fiji, I didn’t get to swap as I came off with 30 minutes to play, after getting a migraine and blurred vision… I came off, got a taxi and went back to bed.

“Against Australia, I swapped with the winger I was up against, Mark Nawaqanitawase. He’s unbelievable in the air. He’s huge. It was pretty cool getting those two jerseys.”

Nawaqanitawase is taking his first steps in Test rugby but the Willie le Roux jersey swap is the enviable one. The Springboks star has been one of the best fullbacks in world rugby, over the past decade, and was pivotal in his country’s World Cup and Lions Test Series triumphs.

In recent years, each Ireland player gets a match jersey and another jersey that they can swap with opposition players (at their choosing) after a game. Rather than let O’Brien give away one of the two treasured jerseys from his first cap game, Cian Healy offered up his No.17 that was then traded for Le Roux’ jersey.

Back in 2017, Keith Earls made a similar gesture to Jacob Stockdale after his try-scoring debut against the USA. The Ulster winger told us:

“Keith Earls was pretty brilliant in that respect. After the game, I was going to go swap my extra jersey with one of the USA players. As I was walking out of the changing rooms, Earlsy just said, ‘Here Jacob, don’t be swapping your first’.

“He gave me his other jersey, and let me swap it, and I was able to hang on to my two first cap jerseys, which was really, really dead on of him. I really appreciated it.”

Earls and Healy, two lads that have 219 Test caps between them and still remember what it was like to be young, green and making your Test debut.

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