Feek backs Peter O’Mahony to lead Lions
“He doesn’t say much but things he does say prickle the hair on the back of your neck.”
“If it is true then we’re all proud of him here. For his family particularly. We’ll be watching with real interest in terms of how he leads the team.”
Peter O’Mahony, while captaining Ireland from Houston to Toronto in 2013, was asked about his rapid, albeit natural progression to a senior leadership role despite being just 23 years old.
“I took a tour at under-12 to France when Fred Casey was the coach at (Cork) Con,” said O’Mahony. “That was the first time I took a touring side away.”
He “took” them. Not arrogance, just fact. The rise to British and Irish Lions captain - he is expected to lead them out against the All Blacks on Saturday - will hardly surprise Casey, Con or anyone in Pres Cork.
Latecomers to the O’Mahony experience, like those poor Wallabies braving an atrocious Limerick downpour in November 2010, would have experienced the confrontational nature of this red raw flanker.
“Schools rugby - senior cup, Munster schools, Irish schools, Irish 19s - they were the start of the all-round captain’s role, and then talking afterwards,” O’Mahony explained four years ago. “I don’t have a problem with that. It’s just something you have to do. I enjoy captaining teams on the pitch. Around team rooms it is nice to have an input on leadership groups. I don’t know if it comes naturally, it’s just something I enjoy.”
A horrendous knee injury, sustained against France at the 2015 World Cup (“The game of his life,” according to Schmidt) denied him the chance to succeed Paul O’Connell as Ireland captain. That and Best’s excellent stewardship, along with the blindside spot being locked down by CJ Stander, with Josh van der Flier preferred in reserve, saw O’Mahony out in the cold. Then, in March, Jamie Heaslip pulled out during the warm-up before the England game.
O’Mahony proceeded to rain fire down on James Haskell and friends.
“The only reason I was surprised is because he hadn’t played much,” said Greg Feek, Ireland scrum coach following training in Tokyo, of that stunningly dominant display. “I just think the conditions at the time and the conditions in New Zealand at the moment - there’s some rain coming, it’s that time of the year - and when it becomes a bit more set piece and the physical exchanges Pete excels. When he does get his fitness he is dangerous anyway.
“He brings stuff, brings certain things outside of the field, in the changing room. He is the sort of guy that doesn’t say much but things he does say prickle the hair on the back of your neck. He’s a good man off it too.”
That alone might be enough to convince Warren Gatland that Sam Warburton needs usurping as the test captain.
“Firstly, for Pete, sometimes with these rumours, if there’s smoke, there’s fire type of thing,” Feek continued. “If it is true then we’re all proud of him here. For his family particularly. We’ll be watching with real interest in terms of how he leads the team.
“We know what he brings. Hopefully, if he has a few more of the Irish boys around him, we know they’ll bring. Hopefully there’s a few more in there. We all know how passionate he is about the game and the way he goes about things. He’s a leader that leads from the front. He says ‘follow me’ and he doesn’t shirk the hard yards.”