IT IS RARE that Sean O’Brien takes a moment to offer even so much as a crumb of praise for an opponent he is due to pack down against.
Ask him about Richie McCaw and he will tell you that Ireland can beat the All Blacks by cutting out errors. A question about Chris Robshaw is met with ‘England have a lot of decent players’.
Tell O’Brien that Radike Samo does not know who he is and he soon makes the Australian eat his words on the pitch.
It was, therefore, a surprise this week to hear the Carlow native talk at length about the threat that French No. 8 Louis Picamoles is set to pose.
Speaking to TheScore.ie, O’Brien notes the devastation the Toulouse forward caused, in broken play, against England at Twickenham.
The French back-row is blessed with a born leader in Thierry Dusautoir, says O’Brien, but stopping Picamoles is key to Ireland controlling the breakdown and keeping the French boxed in.
You can bet that talk in the French dressing room before the 5pm kick-off at Lansdowne Road will be somewhat similar but with O’Brien earmarked as the dangerman.
O’Brien was the most dynamic of the Irish forwards in that never-to-be-forgotten dominant defeat to Scotland at Murrayfield.
He made 22 ball carries, gaining 36 metres in the process, and burst clear on a break that eventually led to Craig Gilroy’s try. Blemishes to his personal contribution were the concession of two needless penalties.
Picamoles has been in stupendous form for a losing France team. During the course of their three reversals, the 27-year-old has gained 212 metres on 43 ball carries.
He has beaten eight defenders on line breaks, turned opposition ball over seven times and scored a try against Italy.
Picamoles flings a pass at the Aviva Stadium Captain’s Run. (©INPHO/Billy Stickland)
One suspects that the match will be decided by the reliability of both side’s place kickers but the most fascinating contest will be decided at the breakdown and around the fringes between two committed warriors.
With Robshaw and Justin Tipuric showing their worth for England and Wales respectively, O’Brien’s hopes of earning a starting spot for the Lions this summer may well depend on outshining Dusatoir, Yannick Nyanga and Picamoles in the back-row battle.