O’Brien: “We need to learn that these games are like a pre-season for the Lions”

I am really proud of how we have prepared for each of the games, and we’ve also taken two tough losses, so we are desperate to finish the autumn campaign off in a positive way.

Those losses were very disappointing. As a side we are not looking for excuses, we are looking to take these games as the highlight of the season, so to go out and get five points out of a possible 10 is a bit disappointing for the squad because we really want to use this period as a platform to use the competitive matches from next year as preparation for the World Cup.

If we’d won against Argentina and then Ireland we would be sitting comfortably looking at next month’s Test match, but that’s not going to happen. I personally think we need to learn that these games are like a pre-season for the Lions. I would like to think we could really try and win the game and take something back to the squad. This is about building momentum, the quality side are always about the run of the ball and playing the sort of attacking rugby we want to play, and we’re taking strides there and we have shown in the last couple of games we can play, and we’ve done it with some regularity, but it’s a bit frustrating with three defeats in four. I thought with the manner in which we played against Australia and Tonga we were very positive.

Australia were always going to be tough, despite the huge challenge on Saturday, so to leave that game level is a big relief, because we believed we were capable of winning even at half-time. As a group we would have liked to have pushed them more at a set-piece and line-out in the second half and how close we came to the line is testimony to how we improved as a team, but given how different the two sides were we can be proud of how we’ve performed as a unit. We made a start that we deserved, but we know we got outplayed in some areas and we have to try and improve that this week.

We’ve taken a major blow to lose Jamie Roberts for the season with a ruptured pectoral muscle. The English have a lot of players coming back for next year so we’ll see how things turn out, but all we can do is rely on the boys that are here and are fit and available. We’re really keen to see if we can close out the season with an ‘A’ in each game. We’re going into the Six Nations having been 2-0 up in the series in England, and we know we can win over there. We have the confidence of our training, that’s behind us and we’re looking forward to working hard and picking up positive results.

There is competition at the line-out and we’re missing Sam Warburton, so we’ll probably have to shift off those and try and rely on up front and there will be new combinations for everyone else. It’s a difficult loss, but we look forward to moving forward.

With the injuries I don’t know who we’ll be calling upon for the second row. I don’t know the whole squad, but we’ll have to look at new combinations and put that work in over the next few weeks to try and put those systems in place. But I think, mentally, we are strong enough to move on and say, ‘It happens.’ It’s frustrating because, physically, we’re injury-free, so it’s about it’s technique, attitude and discipline.”

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