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O’Brien expects more free flowing Ireland under Farrell

O’Brien expects more free flowing Ireland under Farrell
31 January 2019; Defence coach Andy Farrell with Sean O’Brien during Ireland rugby squad training at Aviva Stadium, Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

By Damian Dolan

London Irish flanker Sean O’Brien expects new Ireland head coach Andy Farrell to give the team more freedom to express itself in the forthcoming Six Nations.

Ireland open their championship campaign with the visit of Scotland to the Aviva Stadium on 1 February, and O’Brien is anticipating a more expansive style of play than seen under Farrell’s predecessor, Joe Schmidt.

“I think we’ll play a little bit more openly, and not as structured as we have been playing in the past,” O’Brien told the Irish World.

“I think he’ll [Andy Farrell] let the players have a bit more control over that aspect.”

He added: “I think we’ll see a new style….more free flowing attack. The exciting thing for Ireland is they have the players to do that.

“But that’s not going to happen overnight, it’s going to be a process.”

23 December 2019; Ireland head coach Andy Farrell during a media briefing at the IRFU High Performance Centre in Abbotstown, Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Capped 56 times by Ireland, O’Brien missed last year’s World Cup in Japan with a hip injury.

The British and Irish Lion had already penned a three-year deal with London Irish and joined up with his new teammates in December.

O’Brien is excited by the youthful look of Farrell’s first Ireland squad.

“They’ve picked a good squad – a lot of younger guys. I’m sure Andy has development in his mind and trying to build for the future.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how they play, and how exciting they can be with those younger guys in the squad.”

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O’Brien is particularly excited by the back row options – Jack O’Donoghue (Munster), Caelan Doris (Leinster), and Max Deegan (Leinster) are all aged between 21 and 25.

Guinness Pro14 playoff race hotting
7 April 2018; Max Deegan of Leinster celebrates with team-mate Adam Byrne, left, after scoring his side’s fourth try during the Guinness PRO14 Round 19 match between Leinster and Zebre at the RDS Arena in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

“Those three players have been working really hard and have really put their hand up for selection,” he said.

“A couple of weeks ago Andy said selection would pick itself, [based] on how you’re playing, and they’ve done really well. They’re three really great players for the future.”

Elsewhere, Ulster scrum half John Cooney has been getting rave reviews, and justifiably so for O’Brien.

“He’s unstoppable at the minute; he’s an unpredictability about him and it’s stood him in good stead the last couple weeks,” he said.

“He’s scoring a lot of tries and he’s dangerous looking.”

O’Brien believes that with newly appointed captain Johnny Sexton struggling with a knee injury, Cooney could be the perfect foil.

3 January 2020; John Cooney of Ulster goes over to score his side’s first try during the Guinness PRO14 Round 10 match between Ulster and Munster at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

“He might take a little bit of pressure off Johnny,” said O’Brien, who expects Leinster’s Ross Byrne to get the nod if Sexton is ruled out.

With Wales to follow Scotland to the Dublin in Round 2, back-to-back home games to kick-off the Championship is “definitely an advantage” for Ireland says O’Brien, but only if the team “get it right” and win them.

“They’ll be really targeting those two games,” he said.

“Scotland will be licking their lips coming over to Ireland after a disappointing World Cup too, and the Irish boys will want to start on a good note. It should be a dinger of a game.”

It could also provide the perfect tonic as the Ireland team and its supporters look to draw a line under the World.

Beaten by hosts Japan in the group stage, they were then blown away by the All Blacks at the quarter-final stage – still Ireland’s summit at the tournament.

But Ireland’s form had been in gradual decline long before they set foot in Japan.

“I know the players felt hurt and disappointed after the World Cup, but they’ve played a lot of inter-provincial rugby since then and played really well with their provinces, so a lot of it’s probably behind them,” said O’Brien.

“But they’ll be thinking the next time they pull on an Ireland jersey, they want to leave it in good stead and with a win on its back. They’ll be well fired up.”

28 September 2019; Conor Murray, left, and Jordan Larmour of Ireland after the 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between Japan and Ireland at the Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa in Fukuroi, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

For O’Brien, it will be just the third Six Nations he’s missed since making his Ireland debut in 2009.

“It’s different but that’s just the way it is,” said O’Brien, who sent his former Leinster and Ireland teammate Sexton a message offering his congratulations on the fly half being named captain for the Six Nations, as well as making an unusual request.

“I said I was delighted for him and asked him one favour – if I could be his mascot and walk out with him. We’ll see if he’ll stick to that promise,” O’Brien said.

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