O’Mahony confronts the ‘ultimate challenge’
Munster flanker excited about pitting himself against the world-class Julien Bonnaire
Peter O’Mahony after the Heineken Cup quarter-final win over Harlequins. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Whatever the scale of the task, bring it on would be Peter O’Mahony’s attitude, and he usually confronts every game as if there’s no tomorrow.
Whenever there’s a bit of brouhaha, he’s usually centre stage, and be it lineouts, carrying, tackling or breakdown, the level of intensity he consistently brings throughout 80 minutes and from game to game is remarkable.
Playing rugby for either Munster or Ireland is, for him, a privilege which in turn demands that he put his body on the line without ever taking a step back. His unwavering willingness to do this is, one observer noted, as admirable as it is alarming.
It says as much about his character and his unyielding physicality that even as Ireland’s Six Nations went from one disappointment or injury to another he was probably the team’s most consistent performer.
No challenge was shirked, even being pressed into service as an emergency winger in Rome.
Little, if anything, fazes him and this is one player you know who will not be in the least bit intimidated by facing up to the mighty Clermont Auvergne, the 11-point and 1/7 favourites, on French soil in a Heineken Cup semi-final.
“Well, I’ve been lucky enough to play international rugby against the All Blacks so there have been plenty of teams I’ve been involved against that have been hyped, so there’s nothing new there,” he says.
“Obviously they’re a hugely impressive team but when you bring international rugby into it there’s obviously a different aspect.”
That said, being cast as huge underdogs and having a little thread of fear running through the Munster camp is never a bad thing either.
Hence, somewhat surprisingly, even he admits: “It’s nerve wrecking at times when you get some of the pictures up on the blackboards.
“You get a bit nervous, relax again and then get to training and something goes wrong in the defensive line and you start to panic a bit but I suppose that’s all part of it; this is my first semi-final and I’m hugely excited to get stuck in.
“Sometimes it feels like it is a short week, sometimes it feels it’s for ever but I’m getting through it.
“It’s not that we’re trying stuff,” he explained, more it’s the anxiousness that comes to the surface as Munster go into Heineken Cup mode.
“Fellas want to do well and as ye guys know we measure ourselves on the Heineken Cup, that’s a huge week for the club and especially for what is a new group that we have here.”
Move on quickly
Trying to back up their quarter-final win away to Harlequins six days later at home to Leinster proved too big an ask, but that derby also helped them move on quickly, with this game, either offering the end of Munster’s season, to all intents and purposes, or a redemptive final in the Aviva.
“They’re the best team in France at the moment and having to play them away from home, it’s probably the ultimate challenge in the Heineken Cup, so it’s really a huge week for us.”
There remains a slight doubt about O’Mahony’s availability for this game, but although Rob Penney rated his flanker’s chances of playing at “60-40”, the player himself veers more toward 90-10.
“That’s what I’m saying to the physiotherapists anyway,” he says.
Losing O’Mahony would be a huge blow, for aside from leading from the front in the trench warfare, he’s an integral part of the Munster lineout, both on their own ball and defensively. In his own way, he’s become the Alan Quinlan of this Munster team, and is as important to them as, say, his direct counterpart Julien Bonnaire is to Clermont.
Singling out direct opponents has become a repetitive theme for Munster players this week, such is Clermont’s stellar line-up, but Bonnaire’s value to club and country can scarcely be understated.
Athletic and a wonderful line-out operator, the 34-year-old was a key member of the France team which made an unlikely run to the 2011 World Cup final, and though since retired from the national team after winning 70 caps, he is under contract for a seventh season with the club he joined from his home town of Bourgoin in 2007.
“World class,” is how O’Mahony describes him in that unchanging, almost whispering yet steely voice of his.
“He would be someone I would have looked up to as a young player, I’d like to think that I bring something to the line out, something similar, coming up through school he is someone I would have been really impressed by and I would have watched videos of him.”
“It’s exciting, I’ve plenty of people here that I want to play alongside, but when you come up against people I would have looked up to and tried to pick bits and pieces from their game, then it’s encouraging to get the opportunity to come up against them, they’re the kind of things you relish in this European Cup.”
“He has played for France umpteenth times, he’s a World class backrow and it’s nice to come up and challenge yourself against the best in the world.”
And you know he truly will relish that challenge.