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The three fixable factors behind Eddie Jones' England stagnation

Eddie Jones' England weren't far away from making the grade.

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'We thought he wasn't fazed but he told us he was s****ing it'

By Liam Heagney
Ireland's Jimmy O'Brien (Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Playing 53 minutes in the midfield against the world champion Springboks and finishing up on the winning side with Ireland wasn’t how the weekend was supposed to pan out for international rookie Jimmy O’Brien. The 25-year-old had originally been chosen on the A team wing, locked in for a Friday night head-to-head duel AJ Lam and his fellow visiting All Blacks XV.

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If that selection had been followed through on, O’Brien would have been left nursing his wounds as that fringe Irish team was blown away by the seven-try New Zealanders, Lam gleefully even helping himself to a scoring flourish.

As it turned out, however, O’Brien was nowhere to be seen when the All Blacks reserves were given the freedom of the RDS. Instead, a Friday morning call had changed everything. Robbie Henshaw had pulled up lame, Stuart McCloskey was promoted from bench to starting lineup and the uncapped O’Brien was now needed to be Andy Farrell’s 23rd man at the captain’s run and for match day.

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Even then, the script remained unpredictable for the back-three-position Leinster regular. Usually, it’s not until the hour-mark onwards that Ireland look to make use of their replacements, yet O’Brien was ushered into the Aviva Stadium action as early as the 27th minute and was also tasked with the unfamiliar outside centre role he last filled for Leinster in January 2021.

Was he found wanting? Was he heck! There was one pass, two tackle breaks, four kicks, five ball carries and six tackles made according to the official Autumn Nations Series stats. Not bad at all when you consider that outside of that composed exterior of his, he later confessed he was actually bricking it, battling with nerves while he negotiated an incredible Test debut that was only publicly confirmed about 30 hours earlier.

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You’d think the 37-year-old Ireland skipper Johnny Sexton had seen it all in his stellar career but even he sounded in awe regarding what the rookie twelve years his junior had managed in his first Test appearance. “His versatility is pretty unique,” enthused the veteran captain about the replacement whose snazzy display made light the cruel early departure of the injured McCloskey.

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“Like, he has played ten for Leinster as well, he is a fantastic footballer. We thought he wasn’t fazed but he told us he was shitting it after the game.”

It was here, with laughter reverberating around the media room, that team boss Farrell interjected: “Which was news to me because I was praising his calmness but anyway.”

Back to Sexton. “Look, he came on and, just like a duck to water, he was just straight into it. He knew everything and he just did his role really, really well. Fair play to him. Most people get their first cap in a smaller game but he gets it against the world champions and what an amazing performance.”

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