Munster-Leinster derby prefect appetiser for top European fare, says O’Mahony
Captaincy won’t change him as a player or his personality
New Munster captain Peter O’Mahony scoring a try for the province against the Newport-Gwent Dragons at Musgrave Park. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Munster captain Peter O’Mahony during the Irish Heineken Cup Launch at Sky Ireland in Dublin, yesterday. Photograph: Artur Widak/PA Wire
Not the least disappointing aspect of attempts by the Anglo/French axis to redraw the European calendar of the last seven seasons is it works. The Heineken Cup intervenes with unerring timing to crank up the season, and the customary Munster-Leinster head-to-head a week beforehand ratchets up interest levels another notch in anticipation of the seasonal return to European fare.
This weekend’s renewal of Irish rugby’s stand-out rivalry in the professional era – albeit one under threat by the very real emergence of Ulster in latter seasons – has been played for the last five seasons in Dublin, the last three of these a near sell-out at the Aviva.
However, in a change to the itinerary it has been moved to Thomond Park, with the return meeting set for the RDS in March, a week before the Heineken Cup quarter-finals.
The fixture has always been on a par with Heineken Cup standards, and sometimes higher, and thus serves an additional purpose in that it fast-tracks internationals whose seasonal returns have only been a week or two beforehand as well as giving both sides a collective lift in intensity of the kind they need to adjust to when turning their attention from the Pro12 to the Heineken Cup.
Perhaps, mindful of the risk of injury, it can be a little unnervingly tense for the coaches, but by and large it works.
Most physical game
“It’s great,” says Munster captain Peter O’Mahony. “I’d say last season’s game at Thomond was the most physical game I’ve played all year and they’re always a great barometer of where you stand before you get stuck into the Heineken.
“It’s one players and supporters love as much, it’s a big game for both clubs, their supporters, and it’s a great spectacle of rugby most of the time.
“It’s always hugely hard fought and there’s usually a good bit of slagging goes on after it. It’s a great barometer of where you stand before round one of the Heineken.”
Having led Ireland in their summer Test wins in North America, O’Mahony will be Munster’s fourth different captain in the sides’ last four meetings, but in the same way you would imagine his speeches are straight to the point, you believe him when he says captaincy won’t change him a jot.
“Not a particular huge amount, to be honest,” he says. “I said to myself at the start that I wasn’t going changing the wheel, you know?
“For me, to arrive back this year totally different because I am the captain would be ridiculous. I just want to do what I’ve been doing, keep learning my game and improving when it comes to captaincy and keeping on top of that.”
Maintaining the theme, and being such a driven sort in any case, nor has it added to his sense of responsibility.
“No, not really I think the overall picture is more important, the team is more important than me feeling pressure because I’m captain. It’s a club thing, it’s the club’s standards to win trophies.”
Attending his first Heineken Cup launch on Tuesday, O’Mahony was given another reminder of Munster’s past glories with clips from the hugely-emotive Heineken Cup final wins in Cardiff in 2006 and ’08.
As a supporter at the Millennium Stadium on both occasions, they brought a smile to O’Mahony’s face, and he admits those Cup wins were both inspiring and intimidating.
“It’s probably a bit of both. There’s definitely an aspect of it that’s inspiring but there’s a bit of pressure there.
“There’s not a big weight on your shoulders but there’s a big standard; we love setting our standards high and it’s been there and it’s so special when we’ve been there and we know too that we have to set our standards high, our standards need to be as high as winning trophies.”
Leo Cullen has admitted envy of those Munster successes was a huge driving force in their developement.
Leinster have won three Heineken Cups since those halcyon Munster days, and although Munster claimed their third league title three seasons ago, Leinster’s Challenge Cup/Pro12 double was a reminder they remain in the ascendancy. And so the wheel has turned. Munster are the jealous ones.
“Yeah, of course,” says O’Mahony. “I suppose it is human nature to be jealous. It is the nature of the kind of people that we want to be the best. There is a big rivalry there and you want to go and be on top.
“We have to show it first, Leinster have proven that over the last couple of years by winning four trophies, we have to show we are at that level and deserve to win things in Europe.”