After fielding a number of academy faces and very nearly overturning a 26-0 deficit against Northampton Saints in Franklin’s Gardens last week, Leinster face Ulster today before the trip to Glasgow next Saturday as they contemplate a first season since 1999 without Brian O’Driscoll.
O’Brien, now vice-captain with Rob Kearney, believes new captain Jamie Heaslip will not be lacking support.
“I don’t think it has been strange,” the Leinster back row said when asked about the retirements of O’Driscoll and Leo Cullen. “I think it has been quite fresh, hearing new voices. You have to move on very quickly.
“Obviously they are world class players and they’re world class leaders but someone has to step up to the plate, take that mantle and drive things to a new level. Jamie has loads of support behind him. That’s what we want to try and do, not look back and wish you’d love to have Brian or you’d love to have Leo here. They’re gone, it’s different and we have to just move on.”
O’Brien will captain the side at Tallaght Stadium (4pm). O’Brien is one of 12 players to make their seasonal today with only three players retained from the 15 that started away to Northampton last weekend. Young Clontarf hooker Bryan Byrne starts for the second week in a row but he has over 230 Leinster caps either side of him with Cian Healy and Mike Ross starting at loosehead and tighthead respectively.
In the backs, last week’s captain Jimmy Gopperth is again at out-half, with Luke McGrath beside him at nine. Darragh Fanning is again on the left wing with Fergus McFadden on the right, while Zane Kirchner is at full back. Noel Reid and Brendan Macken are 12 and 13 .
Stuart Olding will play his first game for Ulster in ten months in Dublin this afternoon. The 21-year-old Ireland international ruptured his ACL playing for the Ravens in November last year and is selected at inside centre alongside Jared Payne who starts at 13. Louis Ludik, who scored a try on his Ulster debut last week, is at full-back with Michael Allen and Craig Gilroy on the wings.
Ian Humphreys and Paul Marshall, who both started the game against Exeter Chiefs, retain their partnership in the half backs.
Z Kirchner, F McFadden, B Macken, N Reid, D Fanning, J Gopperth, L McGrath; C Healy, B Byrne, M Ross, K McLaughlin, M McCarthy, J Conan, S Jennings, S O’Brien (C)
L Ludik, M Allen, J Payne, S Olding, C Gilroy, I Humphreys, P Marshall; (1-9); A Warwick, R Herring, W Herbst, D Tuohy, F van der Merwe, R Diack, S Reidy, R Wilson (C)