Sean O'Brien chokes back the tears after performance of vintage destruction 1 month ago

Sean O'Brien chokes back the tears after performance of vintage destruction

It was the final question - the kicker - that got him.

Sean O'Brien is into the final straight of his Leinster career. He does not have many games left, and he knows it.

There were two striking observations at the end of Leinster's 30-12 Champions Cup semi final win over Toulouse - this was Johnny Sexton's first Leinster game of the year, and this was Sean O'Brien's last game for his home province at the Aviva Stadium.

O'Brien, who always seems to be battling back from one injury or another, looked to have been left behind by the brutality of modern rugby. His body must have taken one seismic blow too many, we assumed as we watched his number raised in Rome and Cardiff during the Six Nations.

'The Tullow Tank' would be off to pastures news, in the English Premiership, next season but he would most likely be spared the all-out assault of Test rugby. That he managed to make 61 Test appearances (56 for Ireland, 5 for the Lions) and that we are still counting is an achievement in itself.

This lad has been through the wringer more times than Trigger's mop.

However, with Leinster down Dan Leavy, Josh van der Flier and Rhys Ruddock, O'Brien strapped up again and went at it. He was sent hurtling backwards when he tried to prevent one early carry from Charlie Faumina, but he gradually grew into the contest.

Toulouse had prospered, in the group stages, by slowing Leinster at the breakdown. No chance of that today, with Scott Fardy, Devin Toner and O'Brien clearing house. The openside finished with 12 carries, 14 tackles an inordinate amount of work around the breakdown.

(Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile)

"Seanie is an unbelievable competitor, he has worked incredibly hard to get back from his injury," Leinster head coach Leo Cullen said after the game.

“You can see what it means to Seanie, the way he plays. He physically throws everything he has into his performances. I thought he was really exceptional today.

“It’s not just performance, it’s how he leads the group and how he talks in the week. How he understands the threats the opposition is going to pose on both sides of the ball.

“In terms of dominating that contact area, he’s one of the best players I think to have played the game, certainly Irish guys. He’s showing again what he’s capable of.”

Channel 4 were clued in to the fact that this was an Aviva swansong - in Leinster blue - for O'Brien. They got his take on a well deserved win then hit him with the killer question - 'One step closer to finishing your Leinster on a massive high. It must mean a lot?'

O'Brien was teetering throughout the interview and he choked back the tears to finish out strongly.

"It’s a tough day for me here actually today.

"The last game in the Aviva for me, probably… so nice to finish with a win anyway."

London Irish may be getting a player who is not of the same calibre as O'Brien 2010-2017 but they are still getting a warrior, and one that is capable of mixing it with the very best on his day.