O’Brien’s final fate hangs in the balance

SEAN O’BRIEN will have to wait until tea-time today before discovering whether he will miss the Heineken Cup final as well as the business end of Leinster’s Magners League campaign.

The flanker was seen to strike opposite number Yannick Nyanga after the Toulouse forward had obstructed him in the run-up to Louis Picamoles’ try shortly after half time during Saturday’s thriller at Lansdowne Road.

It appeared O’Brien was swinging merely to free himself from the Frenchman’s illegal grip but Paul O’Connell received a four-week ban earlier this season for a similar reaction against the Ospreys’ Jonathan Thomas, for which he also received a red card.

The incident, which sent Nyanga sprawling, has already been posted on YouTube but no action was taken against O’Brien on Saturday by referee Dave Pearson who was standing just metres away and in clear view.

Clubs do not have the power to cite players under tournament rules but they may refer incidents to the citing commissioner within 24 hours of the game’s conclusion.

That deadline ran out at approximately 5.30pm yesterday, by which time no word had been heard from Toulouse.

The citing commissioner has 50 hours from the start of the game to decide whether or not he will submit a citing to the ERC disciplinary officer, although this deadline may be extended in exceptional circumstances.

When asked about the incident after the game, O’Brien described it as “handbags”.

For the Tullow flanker to miss out on the endgame in Cardiff would be cruel indeed given the fact that he witnessed the 2009 triumph from the bench. A further 11 of the Leinster squad which was named for last Saturday played no part in that decider against the Leicester Tigers two years ago, another fact often overlooked.

So, while all the talk for the next two weeks will be about Leinster’s quest to join the greats of European club rugby with a second title, at least half their number will be driven by a different hunger.

“Everyone wants to play in the final,” O’Brien said. “That’s my goal from now on in and I’ll do everything in my power to be there. This leaves us in a good position, obviously. That’s where we want to be.

“But there’s no point being there unless we have the trophy at the end of the day. That’s what all the players want. We want to win this again so bad. The next few weeks is a stepping stone to doing that.”

It is a testament to O’Brien’s progress that Michael Cheika decided there was no need to sign a high-profile replacement flanker when Rocky Elsom left two summers ago and that the Australian hasn’t been missed since.

But that owes to more than just O’Brien’s dynamic performances as there is no question that Leinster are now far less dependant on the efforts of one man as was the case the last time they lifted the Heineken Cup.

It was a bullocking run by the Wallaby during the second half against the Tigers that swung that final Leinster’s way in the Scottish capital. Last Saturday’s game, however, was one pockmarked with key moments that were spread liberally around the Leinster camp.

Think Jamie Heaslip’s ability to find the line through a thicket of bodies, Isa Nacewa’s tackle on Gregory Lamboley, Cian Healy’s charge through the Toulouse defence or Richardt Strauss’s head-first dive for a loose ball when others were swinging their boots.

“We spoke about winning those 50-50 balls,” said O’Brien. “That’s the commitment that’s there at the minute. At the end of the day a win is a win and that’s what we came here to do and we did our job.”

Greatness beckons.


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