Parisian jinxes and hoodoos are not in the Tullow Tank’s mentality any more than childhood memories of that last win in Paris a dozen years ago. A visit to Stade de France is just like any game — a challenge to overcome and a game to be won.
Remember that one win in the French capital in 30 years (when O’Brien was 13), where did you watch it? “Jesus, I haven’t a clue to be honest,” he says.
Any significance to that poor record? “I’m certainly not thinking of it that way. We take one game at a time. We can’t afford any more slip-ups, simple as that. We have to win every game we can to leave ourselves in the best possible position coming to the end of it.
“We’re going to France to try and beat them and that’s as simple as it gets.”
This will be O’Brien’s first game at Stade de France after two significant false starts — the first as an unused substitute in 2010, the second last month and that infamous last-minute postponement, although the back-rower is grateful to be three weeks further along the road.
“I think we’re definitely better prepared. We had obviously the week off or the two weeks off and we had time to gel a little bit better with each other, work on our defence and our attack. I don’t think we can have any excuses going over there this week and not fronting up and playing to our potential.”
And then there was the Italy game, where a five to one try count in Ireland’s favour was seen by many to have papered over a worryingly inept first half. Needless to say, O’Brien was not in that particular demographic.
“I don’t know how many tries you wanted us to get,” he said. “I think it was a good performance. Italy aren’t pushovers, as we all know.
“It was hard to break them down in the first half and we knew it would be that tough. I think we took a step up in our attack that day and our defence and our ruck was a lot better than it was in the Wales game. I think we’ve definitely taken a step forward in those two weeks we had to prepare.”
Chief among O’Brien’s objectives as he prepares to face the French will be the targeting of their fly-half, Francois Trinh-Duc, whom he has already faced twice this season in the Heineken Cup pool clashes between Leinster and Montpellier. Again, it is all very simple.
“He’s a big lad but I don’t think there’s any point in over-analysing him either. We’ve seen him a couple of times this year and we know what he is capable of.
“We just have to shut him down, put him under pressure and keep him under pressure. When he’s on the front foot, he’s a great player, he’s able to find space very easily and put people through holes and stuff like that. It’s a different story when there’s a bit of pressure on him. I think we can get stuck into him.
“I think we have to be careful on rushing up on him or doing something stupid, a rush of blood to the head.
“He is big for an out-half. He’s probably one of the best 10s around now at the minute so we’ll have to keep an eye on him.”
O’Brien is not reading too much into France’s poor performance in beating Scotland but he has noted where the Scots succeeded and Ireland may care to follow.
“They gave them a lot of hassle at the breakdown, I think. They choked them up, got a good few reefs in as well and took a good bit of ball off them there. They put pressure on their 10 as well and I think that was the most effective thing, especially around the breakdown.”
Those successes also point to where O’Brien feels Ireland need to improve.
“I think we can go a little bit harder at the ruck again, improve that area a little bit more. I think our defence, obviously there were a couple of little things last week that we worked on this week that weren’t up to scratch. Those two things will be a big part of it. Obviously we can just use our attack shape again as best we can.”
The same applies in defence, where the flanker would like to see a similar step up in aggression to that achieved after the opening game against Wales.
“We need to get off the line a little bit more. At certain times I suppose, it’s choosing the right time to do it, especially against the French. They’re unpredictable as well, they love the offload game. We have to pick and choose our times to take that space away from them and not let them get into that flow that they love to get into. That’ll be a big thing.”