The Leinster flanker admits Ireland will have to offer Conor Murray more protection when they face Scotland this weekend
Sean O'Brien says Irish players will have to offer more protection to Conor Murray this Saturday at Murrayfield, as Joe Schmidt's side kick off their Six Nations campaign against Scotland.
Speaking at the team announcement today, the Leinster flanker also admitted that targeting players has in a way become part of the modern game.
Earlier this week, Greig Laidlaw said of Conor Murray's presence in the Ireland team:"Will we be putting pressure on him? For sure we will. He’s not going to come to Murrayfield and get an armchair ride.
"We need to do that to every Irish player but we can expect the same back, I’m sure."
Murray endured a difficult time against Glasgow Warriors when Munster faced the Scottish side in the Champions Cup and O'Brien says the team will have to offer him some "extra protection".
"They're going to target him because he's one of our key players, but we'll do the same to their no. 9 and no. 10," he said. "Isn't that the way in every rugby game? We'll have to make sure he's looked after.
"You have to give him an extra bit of protection when he's box kicking or if he's around the breakdown that it's nice and clean for him. You don't want a nine going digging or getting into a mess for it."
O'Brien starts in the pack for this weekend's clash and says he has no injury concerns ahead of the game, pointing to his recent game-time as a good indication of how much he has progressed.
"I'm feeling very fresh. I've had two good prep weeks there now for this week and everything is good. I'm raring to go. I'll be hopping around the place this weekend," he said.
"I was a bit frustrated the last two weeks, but there was always something going to happen once I played more minutes in the last couple of months than I had in the last two seasons.
"Set-pieces are a massive thing so when we have the first scrum or the first line-out opportunity, we'll know where we are [with niggles] then. We'll know where we are after a few minutes of the game, especially in a test match."
He admitted returning to full fitness has been a challenge and knows that there is a lot of competition within the squad.
"There's a lot of heat there to be performing at training and on match days. I have to mind the jersey for this weekend and make sure I do it justice. I know there's a queue of lads coming in behind me who want it.
"The competition is massive obviously you know but in every international set-up you have that and we've had it more so than others in the last little while."
Sean O'Brien training at Carton House, Co. Kildare, on Thursday morning. Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan
He also pointed out the successes that the Irish provinces have been enjoying both in Europe and in the Guinness PRO12.
"I don't think there's a noticeable difference in attitude but it's obviously a positive thing if provinces are performing well. On the other side with Scotland, clubs have been doing well too.
"But that can only be positive. When we come in here we add little bits that we have in our provinces and feed them to the management team and the coaches to see what they come up with.
"It's a different environment we're in now and going into this championship, it's going to be a tough one."
Of the expectation on the team following positive results in 2016 he said: "It's just another test match for us. It's the start of another championship. I think if you look at all of the sides that we're going to be facing, they've all improved a lot over the past year... The minute you look past the first game, that's when you're in trouble. We're focused on Scotland only."