Peter O'Mahony: Munster have the gameplan to meet Saracens test
Munster captain believes Johann van Graan has enhanced province’s attacking threat
Peter O’Mahony during a Munster squad session at University of Limerick ahead of Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final against Saracens. Photograph: Inpho
Historical references without context are of little relevance so Munster’s defeat to Saracens in a Champions Cup semi-final at the Aviva stadium two years ago will have little impact psychological or otherwise when the clubs clash again at the same stage of the tournament, this time at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry on Saturday afternoon.
Munster captain Peter O’Mahony argued as much, pointing out the province’s evolution as a team under Johann van Graan is at a completely different juncture from 2017 and his viewpoint is given further sustenance based on the fact the run-on Munster team on Saturday will have changed by over a third in personnel terms.
Perhaps the most persuasive constant to the previous match is that Mark McCall’s Saracens retain a quality that is obvious in terms of the players at his disposal and an unbeaten and impressive carriageway to the penultimate stage of the tournament.
O’Mahony drilled down to the specifics of what makes the current Munster squad different in orientation. “I think our gameplan has improved. We have a few more strings to our bow with regard to our attack.
“Our defence is getting there certainly. We have conceded the least amount of tries of anyone in this competition so far. We are working hard but can get better. We have certainly grabbed a bit of confidence from the last couple of months and hopefully that will stand to us at the weekend.”
Munster trailed 6-3 at the interval two years ago before losing 26-10; a defeat that O’Mahony asserted flattered the Irish province a little bit where a late try applied a lick of gloss to a matt performance. He also paid tribute to the manner in which the new players have elevated standards. “The guys have had a massive impact. I don’t have to name them off but obviously guys like Tadhg (Beirne), Joey (Carbery) and Alby (Mathewson). There’s a group who’ve come in and the (playing) group here have learned a huge amount and kicked on as well; we’ve found a good balance.”
It’s not just on the playing side of things that Munster have developed as Van Graan has had more time to fine tune his coaching philosophy. O’Mahony continued: “He’s (van Graan) a lot of great attributes. He’s obviously very good at dealing with guys, personally, one on one and he’s good dealing with the squad.
“He’s very diligent, adaptable and he’s certainly given us a lot of responsibility, which we needed to take on as a group of players. It was difficult for him coming halfway through a season and doing what he did. He’s certainly taken it by the throat this year with regard to him actually doing a bit more coaching and that kind of thing, which has certainly helped. He’s been great for us.
“He’s very personable, very easy to talk to. I think he enjoys that side of it as well, the relationships and that kind of thing. He has that with guys but at the end of the day, it’s rugby for him. That comes first, which is the most important thing for us and him.
“He certainly has a ruthless side to him as well that might not be seen across the cameras, which is vitally important as well in this game. I think he has a good balance between both.”
O’Mahony’s firsthand knowledge of the difficulty of the task that Munster face in Coventry was gleaned from the Lions tour to New Zealand in 2017 when he played alongside a host of Saracens players including three mainstays of their pack, hooker Jamie George and secondrows Maro Itoje and George Kruis.
He was impressed by them as individuals, their attitude and application and also an attention to detail. So does it provide an insight? “Yeah, it gives you an insight into how good they can be mentally and their thought process on the game, which is useful in some ways. In other ways, you know how good these guys really are behind their performances.
“You see it in how they think about the game and their philosophy. I think they have a good club. They have some very good structures, some good guys on the pitch leading it and a great coaching staff. You certainly get a good insight into it and I was very impressed with it. You learn a huge amount from the way they approach the game and how they implement it.”
Forewarned, O’Mahony will look to be forearmed come Saturday afternoon.