Sean O'Brien shows that injury will never keep him down with superb performance 5 months ago

Sean O'Brien shows that injury will never keep him down with superb performance

There's a good rule of thumb with Sean O'Brien.

'Assume Sean O'Brien will be Sean O'Brien and continue to be Sean O'Brien until a point in time comes where Sean O'Brien is clearly no longer Sean O'Brien.'

There's never been any doubt over O'Brien's talent, he established himself as a world-class player from a very early stage with his 2011 ERC European Player of the Year award and each time you think that this could be it for him, that this could be one injury too many, he comes roaring back and it looks like he's never left.

O'Brien has played just 19 games for Leinster since the start of the 2016 season and has suffered an array of injuries suffering a broken arm, hip and shoulder injuries in the last year alone and it seems that every time he gets back it's only a matter of time before tragedy strikes again.

It's harsh, it's unfair, it's cruel, but it's been a consistent factor throughout his career.

In football, injury prone players are often described as 'made of Weet-a-bix' for their tendency to injure themselves but when you watch O'Brien play you think more of steel than sog.

Against Wasps on Sunday he was at his destructive best and was smashing into rucks, carrying the ball over the gainline and showing soft, quick hands down the flank.

But, of course, O'Brien has done this before. When Ireland played New Zealand in the 2016 November internationals, O'Brien had played just 156 minutes for Leinster and 68 minutes for Ireland after spending months on the sideline with a hamstring injury.

The injury looked like it could have threatened his career, but low and behold, with barely any minutes under his belt in a handful of games, he was absolutely sensational against New Zealand in a controversial 21-9 loss at Lansdowne Road.

O'Brien's proclivity for injury is rather stunning, with former Ireland winger Luke Fitzgerald his only real rival for the most injury prone Irish player of this decade, but his ability to overcome his body betraying him each time and the mental capacity to put aside his frustrations, only to return and maintain his peak level, which has always been world-class, is nothing short of extraordinary.

A lot of that credit must go to the Leinster and IRFU medical staff who have clearly been excellent with him but O'Brien is the one that ultimately has to make that long, lonely journey to recovery each time and it's a path that he's more than used to.

"It's not the same when you are not involved," O'Brien said earlier this season.

"Obviously I added a bit to the set-up and was involved earlier on... everyone is telling you that sort of stuff, but you play to be there, to be part of the big finals and to be out on the field. It's very different, so it is, not contributing on the field, on the day.

"Bit of a strange one. The lads are on a different buzz to what you are. But that's human nature as well. You are disappointed; you're happy though as well. It's mixed emotions.

"The lads don't forget about you, well, completely anyway but it's strange. They've put in the work on the field. You've added a bit to the set-up off the field but, other than that, you can't do much for them."

The matchday experience on the sidelines seems as tough for O'Brien as the actual arduous work during rehabilitation but when he's back out there it doesn't take him long to get going.

The tough thing for Joe Schmidt next month is where to play him?

The consensus has been that when O'Brien, Peter O'Mahony and CJ Stander are all fit, that is the trio that Schmidt will favour the most, but Tadhg Beirne's versatility, and his incredible form over the last two seasons make that conversation a lot more interesting.

We saw during the November internationals Devin Toner's value to the team, while James Ryan is virtually untouchable at lock, meaning that we could see Beirne at blindside or number eight, O'Brien at openside or number eight, O'Mahony at blindside or openside or Stander at blindside or number eight.... and that's not even mentioning Dan Leavy, Josh van der Flier or Jordi Murphy who have generally been excellent each time they've been called upon.

Ireland's backrow depth is absolutely absurd and the envy of world rugby, and while it may have only been a touch over 55 minutes against a ragged Wasps team with nothing to play for, O'Brien showed upon his return that he still belongs near the very top of the pile.

Fingers crossed he can continue to stay there because he's a joy to watch.