Tag Archives: Sean O’Brien

Let the Boys Play Warren


A Lions tour holds unique and testing demands for the head coach. Foremost among them is combining the talents of the various players into a cohesive and successful team. Warren Gatland has attempted to do that by imposing a rigid game plan on his squad. In theory, that makes utter sense. These players don’t normally play together, so telling them exactly what to do and where to do it simplifies things and prevents confusion on the pitch.

The oft-repeated notion that the cream of four countries should always beat one ignores the fact that the Lions usually have somewhere in the region of six weeks to prepare for the Test series. In rugby, it’s often not about who has the most talent in their team, but rather who is best organised to use that talent. Gatland has certainly arranged his players to play a distinct way and everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet, but at what cost?

By imposing so strict a game plan and demanding his players stick to it, Gatland is denying much of their ability to judge situations for themselves on the pitch. The Lions’ patterns were getting to the point of predictability on Saturday, and the Wallabies defence is starting to look very comfortable with what is being thrown at them.

Gatland’s insistence on smashing the ball up the middle from set piece means the Lions are not even looking for opportunities to attack out wide. When the Lions receive kicks in back field, they’re not even scanning for the possibility of counter-attacking, it’s safety first and launch the garryowen. None of the Lions appear to be even thinking about offloading out of the tackle. This is low risk rugby.

It’s similar to 2009, when the Lions also stuck firmly to their pre-rehearsed game plan of working all the way out to one touch line before coming back the other way. It was certainly anticipated that the Lions would set up in the same manner this time around, but the hope was that Jonny Sexton would be the key difference.

The Irish outhalf is definitely an upgrade on Stephen Jones in terms of attacking spark, but we haven’t seen any evidence of him being backed to display that. His role has been limited to kicking garryowens and popping the ball to his midfield runners.

In attack, the Lions’ game plan is largely based on smashing through the Wallabies defence, but there has been a key man missing. Jamie Roberts is the one guy who consistently gets over the gain line and he has been sorely missed. His return in midfield should improve the Lions’ attacking effort. If Gatland is going to continue to use the same tactics, then his decision to omit Sean O’Brien from the starting team will surely come to an end. Those two guys could make all the difference.

On Saturday, the Lions were six minutes away from winning a Test series for the first time since 1997. They lost by one point and they certainly have a good chance of winning the third Test. Those are the facts and Gatland will not be losing sleep over complaints about the Lions’ playing style. He is there to win a test series, and he feels that this game plan gives them the best chance of doing so.

It’s tempting to call for Gatland to remove the shackles, allow Sexton to fling the ball into wider chanels and ask Halfpenny to counter-attack every time he fields a kick, but it’s not a realistic hope. We should expect more of the same. That said, Gatland needs to allow his decision makers to play what they see. If he is not going to remove the shackles completely, then at least loosening them a little would make the Lions more dangerous in attack.

Lions: Refine or Redesign?

Warren Gatland has some big decisions to make ahead of the second Test. (c) NAFW.

The Lions are 1-0 up and that is the fact that really counts. But this series is far from won and the Lions will need to greatly improve their performance on Saturday if they are to prevent the Wallabies from leveling matters. Warren Gatland’s game plan didn’t work out as hoped in the first Test and the Lions coaching staff will need to think deeply about how they proceed for the second, and the personnel they choose.

The Lions lineout stats make good reading if taken on a purely numerical basis (100%). However, all but one of those takes were at the front, meaning Mike Phillips wasn’t a running threat and the Lions’ backs weren’t getting ideal possession to play with. Ben Mowen and the Wallabies seemed content to give up the front of the lineout in order to mark up in the middle and at the tail. The Lions appeared to fear Mowen’s defensive prowess and refused to even attempt to beat him at the back.

Jonathan Davies had a good game at 12, but he doesn’t offer the same go-forward as Jamie Roberts. If the Lions are going to continue to accept the easy option at the front of the lineout, then Roberts or Tuilagi have to be considered as the starter at 12. Both of them would be stronger at getting over the gain line and providing Sexton with better quality possession. It would be harsh to drop Davies, but he didn’t look ideal for the role of gain line breaker.

On Saturday, the Lions suffered from an inability to beat a strong Australian defence in phase play. Missing Roberts didn’t help in that regard, but the Lions can’t rely on one player to get them on the front foot. A re-think of the back row looks necessary, with getting an explosive ball carrier into the side important. Sean O’Brien is a player you can count on to tie in defenders and make yards. His hard work with ball in hand close in to rucks creates space for the likes of O’Driscoll and North out wide.

A striking aspect of the Lions’ game plan in the first Test was their utter refusal to kick the ball into touch. The only kicking we saw from Sexton were short chips in behind the defence, a couple of cross-field kicks and a few garryowens. Likewise, Mike Phillips kept all his box kicks well infield. Even when the halfbacks had time to clear directly into touch from their own 22, they kept the ball in play. That ploy simply had to be backed up by a consistently strong kick chase, especially when Phillips was kicking so poorly.

Unfortunately, the Lions were far from their best on kick chase on all but a handful of occasions. Again, the return of Roberts should improve that, and Gatland could do worse than bringing Tommy Bowe into the team to add more aerial ability. Whoever it will be chasing down the kicks, the Lions need to re-focus this ploy of kicking back to the Wallabies.

Jamie Roberts arrives. Wales Grand Slam Celebration, Senedd 19 March 2012 / Jamie Roberts yn cyrraedd. Dathliadau Camp Lawn Cymru, Senedd 19 Mawrth 2012

If Roberts is fit, his return would add a lot to the Lions’ play. (c) NAFW

In the second half, the back three of Ioane, Beale and Folau showed signs of their sharp counter-attacking game, with one scything break from Beale after a badly contested Phillips kick standing out. In refining this game plan, Gatland and his halfbacks need to ensure that their kicks are more contestable (particularly Phillips) and that the Lions chase is far stronger. Folau, Ioane and Beale will be better in the second Test and they just can’t be given the space to counter-attack.

All of these things tie into the idea of refining the current game plan and trying to beat the Wallabies with ‘positive’ attacking play and by scoring tries. That is certainly the approach I would favour. It’s definitely understandable if Gatland doesn’t want to change a winning team, but the Wallabies left 14 kickable points behind in the first Test and Gatland can’t rely on that happening again.

The alternative would be a more ‘negative’ approach and is surely tempting to Gatland now that the Lions are 1-0 up. It’s something that the Demented Mole discussed in his/her excellent article on Dan Lydiate. The Welsh blindside would likely be the key personnel change to such a game plan.

The Lions didn’t kick for territorial gain at all in the first Test, but Gatland may consider completely changing to a system based around territory. Bringing in Lydiate would mean having the best back row defender in the Lions squad on the pitch. Asking Sexton to kick deep into the corners, securing lineout possession and eking out penalties with a low-risk attacking plan to allow Halfpenny to kicks the points may be enticing.

Defensively, Lydiate and the back row would be tasked with stifling Will Genia’s creative play, while the centres would aim to limit the amount of ball that gets wide to Folau and co. As expected, the Wallabies look at their most dangerous in open, broken-up play. This possible change of game plan would be about pining the Wallabies deep in their own half and trying to shut down their attacking flair.

My personal preference for open rugby, and desire to see another Test as exciting as the first, means I hope Gatland focuses on refining the game plan from the first Test. Being loyal to the guys who helped him to come away with a win would be laudable, but I certainly feel that the Lions will have a better chance of wrapping up the series if they make changes to the starting team.

On the checklist for refinement are winning ball at the tail of the lineout, adding more carrying punch to the team, clarifying the kicking tactics, adding aerial ability to the kick chase and limiting the counter-attacking opportunities for the Wallabies. A 10% improvement in each of these areas would probably be enough to earn the Lions a first series win since 1997.


Photos: National Assembly for Wales.

Heineken Cup Highlights


Sean O'Brien and Leinster were very impressive during their 34-3 win over the Blues on Saturday. (c) Ken Bohane.

Leinster sent out a title warning with their comprehensive 34-3 win over the Cardiff Blues at the Aviva on Saturday. The first half in particular showed just how sharp Joe Schmidt’s side can be in attack, with some gorgeous tries. Leinster may be slightly unhappy to have spent the majority of the second half defending, but they did so impressively. They now face a trip to Bordeaux to take on Clermont on the 29th of April in what should be a thrilling encounter.

Ulster overcame Munster in Thomond Park on Sunday, 22-16. Most of the damage was done in the opening 30 minutes as Ulster raced into a 19-0 lead thanks to some Munster indiscipline and a scintillating individual try by Craig Gilroy. The home side replied with a Simon Zebo try and 11 points from ROG. However, despite completely dominating possession and territory, Munster failed to really trouble the Ulster defence. Brian McLaughlin’s side move on to a semi-final against Edinburgh at the Aviva on the 28th of April.

Leinster vs. Blues highlights:


Munster vs. Ulster highlights:


Photo courtesy: Ken Bohane.

Ireland Set For Paddy’s Day

It's an unchanged backline for Ireland. (c) Ken Bohane.

As is the Declan Kidney way, Ireland have gone for consistency with their team selection ahead of Saturday’s Six Nations finale with England. The only change sees Sean O’Brien back in, with Peter O’Mahony making way. After the comprehensive 32-14 win over Scotland last weekend, the Irish management felt no need to make major changes to the match day squad. They’re fully justified after winning with more ease than most of us expected.

The newcomers to the side in Donnacha Ryan, Eoin Reddan and Peter O’Mahony stepped up to the mark as injury replacements. O’Mahony is unlucky to miss out after Sean O’Brien’s recovery from a foot infection. The young Munster back-row showed he is well capable of international rugby with a strong 60 minute display. He will return to the bench frustrated not to be given another start, but with his reputation increased.

Ireland will again look to the likes of Best, Ferris and Kearney to provide leadership with Paul O’Connell missing. It’s going to be a big test in Twickers, no doubt about that. England’s have only conceded 4 tries in their 4 games, but Ireland have the most effective attacking game in the tournament with 13 tries and 112 points. It should be a fascinating match-up.

*Do you agree with the decision to bring O’Brien back in? Do you think O’Mahony should have been given another chance to start? Would you have made any other changes to the team/squad? Comment below with any views or opinions on Saturday’s clash as Twickenham.

Ireland team to face England:

15. Rob Kearney (Leinster)

14. Tommy Bowe (Ospreys)

13. Keith Earls (Munster)

12. Gordon D’Arcy (Leinster)

11. Andrew Trimble (Ulster)

10. Jonathan Sexton (Leinster)

9. Eoin Reddan (Leinster)

1. Cian Healy (Leinster)

2. Rory Best (Ulster, capt.)

3. Mike Ross (Leinster)

4. Donncha O’Callaghan (Munster)

5. Donnacha Ryan (Munster)

6. Stephen Ferris (Ulster)

7. Sean O’Brien (Leinster)

8. Jamie Heaslip (Leinster)


16. Sean Cronin (Leinster) 17. Tom Court (Ulster) 18. Mike McCarthy (Connacht) 19. Peter O’Mahony (Munster) 20. Tomas O’Leary (Munster) 21.Ronan O’Gara (Munster) 22. Fergus McFadden (Leinster).


Photo courtesy:  Ken Bohane.

O’Brien Out, O’Mahony In


O'Brien, in action against France here, will miss Saturday's game at the Aviva. (c) Liam Coughlan.

Sean O’Brien has failed to recover from a foot infection and will now miss Ireland’s clash with Scotland on Saturday. It’s bad news for Declan Kidney and his management team, particularly after a strong display from O’Brien in Paris last Sunday. On the positive side, it does mean a first Ireland start for Peter O’Mahony, who comes straight in at openside. Shane Jennings comes onto the bench as back-row cover.

Saturday will cap a remarkable rise for O’Mahony. Still just 22, the Cork-born back-rower has only made 15 competitive starts for Munster. This season has seen him rapidly assume a first-choice role in Tony McGahan’s team. His aggressive, mature displays at blindside have made him undroppable at provincial level and it’s clear that he is a supreme talent. Asking him to start his first international match at openside, where he has only played 3 times for Munster, will not faze O’Mahony in the slightest.

From a young age, O’Mahony’s confidence and assertiveness have been eye-catching. Throughout his time with the Munster underage teams, his leadership seemed beyond his years, and that’s still the case. It was particularly revealing to hear Stephen Ferris say that O’Mahony was the first person to reassure him after his sin-binning in the final minute against Wales. It’s a fine example of POM’s leadership and maturity.

BJ Botha, POC and Peter O'Mahony await the line out

O'Mahony has been brilliant for Munster this season. (c) Ivan O'Riordan.

Though they are strengths, O’Mahony’s game is not all about attitude, aggression and physicality. He is a naturally skilled rugby player too. Having played some rugby in the centre at underage level, he possess a fine pair of hands, often displayed through his strong lineout skills. A No.8 for much of his career, O’Mahony is more at home there or on the blindside. However, he has all the attributes needed to thrive at openside too.

The point is that O’Mahony has the attitude and natural ability to succeed no matter where he plays. He is one of the best young players in the country and his Heineken Cup form this season makes his fully deserving of this international chance. Munster fans understand just how good O’Mahony can be, now it’s time for the rest of the country to see.

How do you think POM will adapt to the international game? Do you think the Scotland is a good time for his first start? How highly do you rate him? How badly will O’Brien be missed? Drop a comment below with your views!


Photos courtesy:  Liam Coughlan, Ivan O’Riordan.