Joe Schmidt proud of his pride of Lions
Ireland coach pays tribute to Peter O’Mahony ahead of first All Blacks test in Auckland
Joe Schmidt: “Pete is smart as well as tough, and he’s athletic, which makes him the lineout operator that he is.”
Joe Schmidt’s edict, serenading his 11 Lions, began as a question about Peter O’Mahony and the captaincy.
The Munster blindside could not force his way onto the Ireland bench in November. Along with Sean O’Brien, Schmidt left O’Mahony at home to continue a marathon rehabilitation from ruptured knee ligaments as Ireland went to Soldier Field in Chicago and beat New Zealand for the very first time.
O’Brien forced his way into the backrow two weeks later, but no O’Mahony. Josh van der Flier was the Ireland coach’s preferred option on the bench for the All Blacks violent response in Dublin.
Injury to O’Brien allowed the 27-year-old squeeze into the 23 for the Australia match, and van der Flier’s misfortune got him two more caps against France then Wales, as cover for O’Brien and CJ Stander, during the Six Nations.
Then came the warm-up on the pitch before England when Jamie Heaslip pulled up – and has not played since. Stander switched to number eight with O’Mahony regaining the six jersey to produce a stunning performance in direct opposition to Maro Itoje.
“I’m delighted for Pete,” said Schmidt ahead of Ireland’s second Test against Japan in Tokyo this Saturday morning. “I’ve known him for a number of years and he has started a heck of a lot of games for Ireland over the last number of years I’ve been involved.”
Twenty-one starts since Schmidt took over.
“He’s a player who had to fight a long road back from injury, really a nine month injury.”
O’Mahony was a superb captain all the way up with Cork Constitution and in Pres Cork but his bravery on the 2013 tour of North America, when leading Ireland at the tender age of 23, played a significant role in avoiding defeat to the US Eagles in Houston.
“The Lions have picked a really strong lineout and I think they are going to put a lot of pressure on the All Blacks lineout, and he’s tough and he does all those other bits and pieces,” Schmidt continued. “I am delighted for him.
“I texted him when he got named captain for New Zealand Maori game. He was over the moon and absolutely determined to put his best foot forward to play well and by doing that he would lead well. I think he had things the right way round. Pete is smart as well as tough, and he’s athletic, which makes him the lineout operator that he is.”
Schmidt loves a good listing of players. He devoured the allotted time during Thursday’s live press conference by telling the local media about their many talented players (pronunciations all correct).
With 10 more Irish players touring New Zealand, he wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to mention nine of them.
“Tadhg Furlong; he’s just a kid. Two years ago he came to the World Cup as a kid in terms of propping. Sean O’Brien, we know the value of Sean when he gets back and is fully fit. Conor Murray is class and with very limited preparation he has done incredibly well.
“Jack (McGrath) will add value off the bench I am sure. I feel for Besty (Rory Best), he must have been close. He not only led well against the Chiefs but played pretty well, putting good pressure on the ball and scrimmaged well.
“Robbie (Henshaw) had cracking game against the Highlanders, a really cracking game. JP (Jared Payne) got a run at things pretty late and I thought CJ (Stander) had an outside chance (of making test squad) along with Iain Henderson as they have both come good.
“I guess everyone can’t play,” he concluded. “It’s going to be a cracking game.”
Johnny Sexton’s non-selection was brought up.
“Johnny is the supreme team contributor. He will back the team, he will back Owen (Farrell). I know they are pretty friendly unless they are in white and green. He will back him absolutely. It leaves a bit of scope for Owen to push out into 12 later in the game and Johnny to come into 10.”