Sean O’Brien’s form and fitness have both given cause for concern this season, but the Leinster back row remains confident that he still has plenty to offer as his last days with province and country approach.
The Carlow man will make the switch to London Irish after the World Cup and over a decade of devotion to the blue jersey will end as soon as this term’s league and European commitments are parked at the end of May.
Once a given on any teamsheet when fit, his status as untouchable with Ireland was lost during the Six Nations and the sense is that he could do with a strong showing today when he captains Leinster against Glasgow Warriors given Toulouse ship up to Dublin eight days later.
“There is hopefully a lot more to come from me,” he said. “I kinda felt that I was in good form in the last two games. I was busy.
"I wasn’t going in and out of games probably as much as I have been in a few games this year. I felt good afterwards, the body felt good as well.”
If his form is a concern then he seems to be handling it well. O’Brien spoke of the need for patience and trust in himself as an athlete in the wake of his long injury lay-off and amid the understandable bouts of frustration that come with all that.
Keep on truckin’, basically.
It’s still the same for me. I would probably like to get my hands on a bit more ball, starting (today) hopefully, carrying the ball a bit more, but there have been other bits and pieces that I have been pretty happy with: my breakdown work, my defensive work.
“So it’s just getting the whole package together now hopefully.”
He won’t be the only big name being tracked with interest and a little concern at the RDS today.
Leo Cullen has named quite a few of those who will be expected to feature in the Heineken Champions Cup semi-final tomorrow week, Robbie Henshaw and Devin Toner among them.
Neither have played since the opening round of the Six Nations when Ireland lost to England in Dublin, but they have been managed carefully since regaining fitness and they come to play here on the back of two weeks’ solid work on the training paddock.
“Robbie gives us a great physical presence in the midfield of the field on both sides of the ball,” said Cullen.
“He’s growing all the time in terms of his distribution and his ability to ball play as well. The fact he has played 15 in the Six Nations just adds another dimension to his game.
“Dev has a tonne of experience and the presence he brings. It’s more just his calmness in terms of how he leads the forwards in various aspects of the game.
"He has done it in big games for Leinster and Ireland, he has so much experience. He’s a key leader in the team for us.”
One man who won’t feature today is Jonathan Sexton.
The out-half hasn’t featured for Leinster since late December.
Ireland’s Six Nations loss in Cardiff was his last runout of any type as he shakes off a quad injury.
Cullen was adamant yesterday that he is “good to go” but it would have made little sense exposing him to a Glasgow side that — unlike Leinster who have a home semi-final berth already bagged – are top of Conference A but with Munster just three points behind them.
A tough test, then, for a Leinster side with bigger things to distract them on the horizon.
R Kearney; J Larmour, J Tomane, R Henshaw, D Kearney; R Byrne, J Gibson-Park; E Byrne, J Tracy, M Bent; D Toner, J Dunne; J Murphy, S O’Brien, C Doris.
S Hogg; T Seymour, K Steyn, S Johnson, N Matawalu; A Hastings, A Price; J Bhatti, F Brown, A Fagerson; S Cummings, J Gray; R Harley, C Fusaro, M Fagerson.