Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Destructive O'Brien Raises a Warburton Conundrum

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Destructive O'Brien Raises a Warburton Conundrum

Article excerpt

Byline: David Flatman

SINCE Sean O'Brien turned in a fantastic performance on Saturday, there has been rather a lot of talk about Sam Warburton not being good enough to justify his Test place.

His captaincy, of course, renders all such musings futile but the speculation is fun nonetheless. It is inconceivable that Warburton will not, if fit, start the First Test in New Zealand but not only because he is captain. He will start because he is, despite being among other things a double Lions captain, still an underrated player. Yes, underrated. Now, I rather wish I'd been as underrated as him but it's all relative.

When the Welsh captaincy was stripped of Warburton this season, it seemed a reasonable enough decision. Professional sport is a brutal business and his form had dropped significantly. This patchy period, coupled with the breathtaking form of Justin Tipuric, made even his national spot a doubt. But he was chosen and, having been publicly demoted, was magnificent. Watching him live at the Principality he was, just quietly, monstrous. He wasn't perfect. In fact, I thought Hamish Watson outgunned the Welsh flankers when Wales met Scotland but, as the Six Nations ran its course, his class was underlined.

That effort from O'Brien against the Crusaders really was special. At his best, O'Brien carries as destructively as any flanker in the northern hemisphere and his leg drive and frankly awkward physical proportions gave the Kiwis real problems. He has found some real form (he was also excellent for Ireland as they beat England in Dublin) and is good enough to start Test one. The unanswered question is whether or not he's playing so well that Warburton is shifted to the blindside and this has a few connotations.

Firstly and stating the excruciatingly obvious it means than none of the other blindside contenders can play. Peter O'Mahony, a proven Test animal who also played very well in Christchurch, misses out. So too do James Haskell, Iain Henderson, the explosive Ross Moriarty and, perhaps most brutally, Courtney Lawes, whose form is the best it has ever been.

Lawes's primary asset at blindside is his lineout work. …

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