Much of the conversation surrounding Peter O’Mahony of late has centred on who will replace him as Munster captain. Arguably more important is the small matter of his long-term successor to the province’s six jersey.
O’Mahony might not even need replacing for a while yet. He’s not sure what the future holds when his contract expires at the end of this season. Aged 34, the backrow is unlikely to make it to another World Cup but he could easily have another few years of playing at the top level, especially if he is named Johnny Sexton’s replacement as Ireland captain.
Whenever O’Mahony does decide to call it a day, a new potential successor has put his hat in the ring over the last fortnight.
Eyebrows were raised when Graham Rowntree named Tom Ahern at blindside flanker for the interpro clash with Leinster last weekend. Nominally a secondrow – unsurprising given his height, 6ft 9in – Ahern had never started a senior match in the backrow.
One of O’Mahony’s greatest strengths is his lineout work. Ahern excels there too given his lock background. Against Leinster, he had seven lineout takes, the joint highest number by any URC player that weekend.
Fast forward six days, Ahern is named player of the match for another stellar outing at six vs Glasgow. The former Ireland U20 international was a fullback until the age of 17. It showed. His athleticism, handling and surprising speed for someone so tall came to the fore when carrying out wide, fixing a defender and sending a team-mate through a gap in the build-up to Diarmuid Barron’s score.
The move is mutually beneficial. Munster get a solid contributor in place of the currently injured O’Mahony while Ahern guarantees himself game time given the clogged secondrow depth chart.
There are plenty of options for Ireland in this position: O’Mahony himself is still number one, with Jack Conan, Ryan Baird and Cian Prendergast also in the frame. Ahern may well add himself to that list if he continues the form shown in his first two games in this position.
Fifth and sixth place for Ireland’s Sevens
Ireland kicked off their World Sevens Series campaign with fifth- and sixth-place finishes in the men’s and women’s competitions respectively.
The men saw off Samoa in Sunday’s fifth-place final with a comfortable 28-5 victory. A dominant first-half performance saw Ireland race into a 21-0 lead, both sides adding a score apiece after the break.
Ireland found themselves in that fixture after finishing second in their pool before a cup quarter-final defeat to Fiji. Down 29-0 to the defending Olympic gold medallists, a second-half comeback featuring tries from Zac Ward, Terry Kennedy, Jordan Conroy and Harry McNulty fell short, the final score line favouring the Fijians 24-29.
Earlier, the highlight of the group stages was a 19-12 victory over Australia, while former world player of the year Kennedy scored a hat trick in a win over Spain.
In the women’s competition, Ireland also fell to Fiji, albeit in the fifth-place playoff, leaving them in sixth overall. Ireland previously beat Japan and Brazil to finish second in their group behind Australia. In the quarter-final, tries from Lucy Mulhall and Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe were not enough to keep pace with Canada in a 12-14 defeat.
Lesser-spotted late decider
Saturday night saw something of a rarity in rugby: a match decided by a try with the clock in the red. Ciarán Frawley’s dramatic winner, coming in Fergie time, so to speak, reminded us of just how infrequent such match-defining moments are.
Rugby is a high-scoring sport, lending itself to significant gaps on the scoreboard that cannot be overturned by one late, dramatic score.
When such a lead change does happen then, it is particularly memorable. It’s not the first time Leinster completed a comeback against their provincial rivals in this fashion. In 2018, three days before Christmas, Andrew Porter scored with the clock in the red as Leinster overturned a 17-point deficit in the final 15 minutes to break Connacht’s hearts.
Of course, Leinster themselves have previous with such late lead changes, losing the 2022 Champions Cup final to an Ihaia West conversion after the clock had ticked passed the 80-minute mark. Ben Healy’s last-minute try for Munster vs Ulster last season is another notable example.
Late kicks to decide matches are more common. Ronan O’Gara’s drop-goal to beat Northampton in 2011 came with the clock in the red. Jack Crowley of course knocked Leinster out of the URC last season with a late drop-goal, albeit with a handful of minutes remaining. This season, Healy’s 80th-minute drop handed Ulster a defeat away in Edinburgh.
Drop-goals are easier to manufacture in open play; you only need to get to a certain distance away from the posts to let fly. A last-minute, walk-off try where the attack advances to the try line? That is much more rare, and should be savoured for the spectacle it is.
By the Numbers: 23
Ulster’s missed tackle count in their defeat to Edinburgh. As a stat, the importance of missed tackles can be overhyped – to a point. Twenty-three missed tackles and a completion rate of just 86 per cent is that point where it is a justifiable concern.
Word of Mouth
“When you look after each other out there, when you cross the line, for the rest of your lives you need to keep looking after each other.” – England defence coach Kevin Sinfield addressing the Cardiff squad on Saturday night. Sinfield is in the middle of a stint of running seven ultra-marathons in seven days, raising funds for motor neuron disease.
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