Leinster flanker Sean O’Brien lifts the lid on Toulon talks

Leinster flanker Sean O'Brien reveals he came close to a switch to French giants Toulon before signing a two-year deal with IRFU

By Gareth Llewellyn

Seán O’Brien has confirmed he came very close to joining European champions Toulon as his contract negotiations with the Irish Rugby Football Union dragged on.

The Leinster and Ireland flanker, who was part of last year’s British and Irish Lions squad, signed a new two-year contract with the IRFU, but only after an improved offer was made.

I’ll know where I am in two more weeks. I’ll probably know then exactly when I’ll be coming back

Sean O’Brien

“I thought about it yeah,” O’Brien said. “The couple of days before [I signed a new deal] I was kind of swaying. I was thinking to myself ‘what am I going to do?’ and I was talking to my friends and family about it. Yeah, I’d given it serious thought but thankfully in the end everything worked out.”

Leinster exited the quarter-final stages of the Heineken Cup at the hands of Toulon for a second successive season earlier this month.

And the Carlow-born star expressed relief that the tie wasn’t made more interesting had he agreed to join the French Top14 side, although a shoulder injury against rivals Ulster has kept him on the sidelines.

“Thankfully it didn’t [work out that way] and I am very pleased to be staying with Leinster and Ireland,” O’Brien added.

“They’re obviously a class team and they played very well that day. I don’t think we showed up, though. We were still only two scores in it at the end regardless of how they played.

“It would have been a different story if we just had played a lot more. We dropped a lot of balls and made a lot of mistakes. We didn’t come off the line hard enough. There were so many things that day. That’s done and dusted now and we’ve got to look forward and try to win the league.”

The free-spending French side have no shortage of competition throughout their squad and despite having been linked with a move to the Top14 for several years, O’Brien admits that a potential lack of playing time and his international aspirations were among his thoughts as he decided his future.

“It was a massive factor in it,” O’Brien added. “If I was to go away, I suppose I would have been away from home a lot more.

“I mightn’t have been as well looked after as well, especially leading into a World Cup year and that counts for a lot especially when you have big aspirations with Ireland as well, in the Six Nations next year and November even.”

Dubbed the ‘Tullow tank’ for his destructive running, O’Brien is targeting a return to action with Leinster as they look to retain their RaboDirect Pro12 crown.

“I’m kind of into my second week now of hard training,” he said. “I’ll know where I am in two more weeks. I’ll probably know then exactly when I’ll be coming back.”

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