Ireland flanker Sean O’Brien will still be in Joe Schmidt’s World Cup plans, despite signing a three-year deal to sign with RFU Championship club London Irish.
According to a report from the Irish Times, the 31-year-old is set to avoid the fate suffered by former fellow teammate Simon Zebo, who was immediately discarded from Schmidt’s selection plans after signing for Racing 92 in the Top 14 at the start of last year.
The report states that, similarly to Paul O’Connell remaining in the national set-up despite signing for Toulon ahead of the World Cup in 2015, O’Brien is too important for Ireland to simply let go, despite leaving Leinster for a €400,000-per-year deal in England.
It is unclear whether O’Brien’s current contract with the IRFU was going to be renewed in November.
“That’s Seánie’s business and it’d be wrong of me to comment on someone’s personal situation,” Ireland captain Rory Best told the Irish Times.
“From a player’s perspective, you know and you trust them to weigh up the situation and do what’s best for them and their families.”
O’Brien has been capped 58 times by Ireland and the British and Irish Lions since making his international debut against Fiji in 2009, and looks set for a campaign in the Premiership next season, with London Irish currently nine points clear at the top of the Championship.
The acquisition of O’Brien is another sign of London Irish’s ambition to secure promotion and stay in the Premiership for the long term.
The Reading-based club has already signed Wallabies duo Nick Phipps and Curtis Rona, as well as Scotland and British and Irish Lions international Allan Dell, while other big-money deals for the likes of Steve Mafi, Adam Coleman, and Waisake Naholo are being pursued by director of rugby Declan Kidney.
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Is @wnaholo in the sights of @londonirish1898? Reports suggest they are now the frontrunners to land the All Black winger as the club looks to make moves in search of promotion back into @premrugby. #premrugby #allblacks#highlanders #wisemove #naholo #fijirugby#gallagherprem #londonirish#englandrugby #superrugby #rugby?#rugbymen
Watch: Ireland press conference ahead of Six Nations clash with Scotland