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Why O'Driscoll prefers 'worthy' O'Brien to the 'X-factor' Larmour

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

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Leinster legend Brian O’Driscoll believes Leo Cullen will stick with Jimmy O’Brien to start on the wing in this Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup final in Marseille rather than be wooed by the form of Jordan Larmour in his comeback match last Saturday. The 24-year-old wore the No14 shirt when the Irish province appeared in the 2018 and 2019 European finals against Racing and Saracens and he was the first-choice pick in that position in the three pool matches Leinster played this past winter. 

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However, he was injured on URC duty away to Benetton in early March and his ensuing eleven-week layoff resulted in the less-seasoned O’Brien taking over the position and starting the round of 16 double-header versus Connacht as well as the respective quarter and semi-final victories over Leicester and Toulouse.

Larmour made his return to action last weekend, picking up the sponsor’s player of the match award when starting at full-back and generating much excitement for the 30,000-plus attendance when he was running with the ball in a URC derby win over Munster.  

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However, O’Driscoll doesn’t feel that is enough for Larmour to dislodge 25-year-old O’Brien from the Leinster starting XV that will take on La Rochelle this Saturday at Stade Velodrome, the former Ireland and Lions talisman offering up his reasons why the lesser experienced player is the safer bet for Cullen to go with. “I don’t think so,” said O’Driscoll to RugbyPass when asked if Larmour would squeeze into a starting berth when Leinster attempt to win their fifth Champions Cup title.

“On the back of what I have seen, would I be putting Jordan Larmour in instead of Jimmy O’Brien? I don’t think so. Jordan is an incredibly exciting player and he has got this amazing X-factor, but the consistency, know-how and all-round game of Jimmy have been very, very impressive. It feels inevitable that he will get capped in the summer as well (with Ireland in New Zealand). He probably sees opportunity and links a little bit better than Jordan does.

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“Jordan really backs his own personal ability but you have got to take into account he hasn’t been playing rugby for a while. There is an excitement that comes from the freedom that he creates for himself but sometimes I feel that Jordan just misses out on connecting with those around him and sometimes overplays his hand a little bit whereas Jimmy, certainly on the back of the performances I have seen with him in Europe, one hundred per cent is worthy of staying in that wing position.”

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However, O’Driscoll would give Larmour the nod to secure the No23 Leinster bench shirt ahead of the current incumbent, Ciaran Frawley, who had that jersey twice versus Connacht and again versus Toulouse. He suffered a facial injury when starting at No12 versus Munster and while he impressed in that 26-minute cameo, giving the assist for Leinster’s two opening tries, the greater position flexibility that Larmour has puts him ahead in that particular selection race.   

“With Frawley, it depends on what you are looking for and see as the possible threat. Do you want a second distributor to come on? Jordan is probably a better sub player than Frawley considering you have Ross Byrne coming on, you can bring Ross Byrne on at ten and have Johnny (Sexton) at twelve or vice-versa, or Jordan on at 13. Albeit unfortunate for Frawley, Larmour is probably a better back three player substitute and I’d probably look at that.”

Providing that Tadhg Furlong, Ronan Kelleher and James Lowe are all declared fit for the final following their various knocks versus Toulouse, the other selection debate ignited by last weekend’s URC derby win for Leinster was the return to fitness of Ryan Baird, who had not played first-team since starting for Ireland in the late February Guinness Six Nations win over Italy.  

Academy lock Joe McCarthy only made his club debut in January but he was named on the bench for the recent wins over Leicester and Toulouse and O’Driscoll is backing him to retain the No19 jersey even though the more experienced Baird cane though his first appearance in twelve weeks unscathed.

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Ryan Baird is a brilliant athlete but I think they think so highly of McCarthy. I haven’t seen enough of him personally but going on how they rate him, the chat coming out is he has a real hard edge. There is this massive natural ability in Ryan Baird. He can occasionally have a lapse in concentration which would frustrate a coach but geez, there is no doubt that he has phenomenal natural ability. That is a close call but I think they will probably continue to stick with Joe.”

  • BT Sport is the home of the European Rugby Champions Cup. The 2021/22 season concludes this weekend with Leinster vs Stade Rochelais live on BT Sport 2 at 4pm on Saturday, May 28. Find out more on how to watch at BT Sport bt.com/sport

 

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