By Damian Dolan
Ireland cannot allow themselves to be “bullied” by England at Twickenham on Sunday, Sean O’Brien has warned.
The London Irish back row forward, capped 56 times by Ireland, was in Joe Schmidt’s side last year which lost the physical battle to Eddie Jones’ men at the Aviva Stadium.
England won 32-20 with Jonny May’s try inside 90 seconds setting the tone.
John Cooney’s last-gasp score added a note of respectability to the final scoreline – but Ireland were well beaten on the day.
Speaking exclusively to the Irish World, O’Brien says the start will be “massive” on Sunday – Ireland can ill afford a repeat of Dublin 12 months ago.
Andy Farrell’s team cannot “take a backward step in any area”.
“They’ll [England] try and play a very abrasive game; they’ll try and play on top of us and physically impose themselves,” said O’Brien.
“They really came after us from the start in Dublin. We can’t afford to give England a lead like last time, and then try and fight your way back in, because they’re just too good.”
Victory for Ireland will seal the Triple Crown and leave them two wins away from claiming a fourth Grand Slam.
Italy follow for Ireland at the Aviva before a trip to Paris to face an impressive France on ‘Super Saturday’.
After defeat in Paris, Jones’ England will hope to build on their ground-out win at Murrayfield.
“It’s going to be a war of attrition,” added O’Brien.
“Ireland will want to put their best foot forward and England will want to put in a massive performance.
“It’s special and one the players relish. It’ll be a battle, but they’re very enjoyable too, and hopefully the Irish boys can get one over on them.”
Ireland will travel to Twickenham with “no fear” says O’Brien – recent Irish successes at the home of English rugby have removed the fear factor.
Two years ago Schmidt’s side sealed the Grand Slam at Twickenham, while Ireland also enjoyed victory there in 2010, 2006 and 2004.
What an end this was in 2006! @IrishRugby went the length of the pitch as Shane Horgan scored one of the iconic tries of the Championship in the corner.
— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) February 16, 2020
“It’s going to be a tough day, but Ireland definitely won’t fear going to Twickenham and giving it a good rattle,” said the former British and Irish Lion.
O’Brien can see signs of the style that Farrell is trying to implement, in their wins over Scotland and Wales, but stresses that “it’s going to take time”.
Although Ireland won’t be “the finished article” by the end of the championship, victory on Sunday would make things very interesting in the title race.
“I said from the start, this Ireland team, after everything that was thrown against them at the World Cup, could go and win a championship,” said O’Brien.
“Confidence is high and anything can happen. We have the players to go and win a championship, if we can get past England.”
While Ireland “got away with it” against Scotland, O’Brien saw a “massive improvement” in the game against Wales.
“They controlled things really well from the off. They played a really good pressure game and moved the ball to where the space was,” he said.
“You could see glimpses of the expansive play they’re trying to get to, and it was nice to watch.”