It was a case of cometh the hour, cometh the man for many of Leinster’s stars as they swept aside the challenge of Toulouse to set up a mouthwatering Heineken Champions Cup final clash with Saracens.
One the day, Johnny Sexton picked up plenty of plaudits and rightly so. It was performance fitting of the Man of the Match award and an excellent return to form.
However, there was one other talismanic figure who put in a long overdue performance yesterday in the shape of Sean O’Brien.
O’Brien has had a long run of rotten luck dating back to his impressive showing for the British & Irish Lions on their tour of New Zealand back in 2017.
While the Tullow Tank sat out most of 2018, both Leinster and Ireland went on a tear. A Grand Slam title, a Champions Cup win and a PRO14 crown added to a series win in Australia and, lest we forget, Ireland’s maiden home win over New Zealand back in November.
O’Brien missed out on all of this and, to make matters worse, Josh van der Flier and Dan Leavy both stepped up in his absence and dare I say it made us all forget a small bit about the Tullow Tank, one of Ireland’s most dominant forces ever.
It’s funny how things change because Leinster need O’Brien now more than ever with Van der Flier and Leavy both injured (Leavy will definitely miss the World Cup). The Carlow native has been asked to rediscover the form that many thought may have gone forever.
However, O’Brien came up trumps yesterday at the Aviva Stadium. He made 12 carries, was dominant in the tackle and a complete nuisance around the ruck. It was vintage O’Brien.
Following the win, Leo Cullen showered the openside flanker with praise.
“Sean’s an unbelievable competitor and he’s worked incredibly hard to get back from his injury and you could see what it means to him.
“Physically he throws everything he has into his performances and I thought he was really exceptional today, not just his performance but how he leads the group. In the week the way he talks, how he understands the threats that the opposition are going to pose on both sides of the ball.”
“In terms of dominating that contact area, I think he’s one of the best players to have ever played the game, certainly among the Irish guys in that area. I think he’s showing again what he’s capable of. It was good to have Sean back out there.”
Time is running out on O’Brien’s glittering Leinster career. He has agreed a deal with London Irish and will relocate to the English capital from next season.
While he may have a Champions Cup final and a possible PRO14 final to look forward to in the coming weeks, it seemed to hit home with O’Brien that Sunday’s encounter with Toulouse would be his final game at the Aviva Stadium as he choked back the tears when being interviewed by Channel 4.
.@SeanOBrien1987's emotions are very close to the surface as he reflects on a momentous victory in one of his last few games in the @leinsterrugby jersey he has graced for so long#C4rugby #LEIvTOU pic.twitter.com/kTw5Ja0muS
— Channel 4 Sport (@C4Sport) April 21, 2019
A legend of Irish rugby and one of our country’s greatest ever players, let’s bask in the glory of the Tullow Tank over these last few weeks as he brings the curtain down on a truly remarkable career with Leinster.