O’Mahony confident Murray will rise to Lions captaincy challenge

Vastly experienced Munster flanker aiming to help Ireland avenge World Cup defeat to Japan

Peter O’Mahony: “It doesn’t matter who is away with the Lions or who is getting rested, the team picked next Saturday is the Irish national team and that deserves an incredible amount of respect in itself.” Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Peter O’Mahony: “It doesn’t matter who is away with the Lions or who is getting rested, the team picked next Saturday is the Irish national team and that deserves an incredible amount of respect in itself.” Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

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Peter O’Mahony appreciates the challenge of having the captaincy of the Lions thrust upon him at short notice, so is perfectly placed to empathise with Conor Murray’s new-found status having succeeded the unfortunate Alun Wyn Jones as the totem of the touring party.

On the 2017 tour to New Zealand, head coach Warren Gatland handed him that responsibility against the New Zealand Maoris and then for the first of the three-Test series.

There was nothing left field about the decision despite the brevity of the fanfare. O’Mahony had captained pretty much every team for which he played from school to the Ireland side.

Murray doesn’t possess that body of leadership experience but O’Mahony has no doubt that his erstwhile Munster and Ireland team-mate has the character, personality and experience to successfully discharge the role. He’s delighted for him but acknowledged that it does take a little while to come to terms with the honour.

O’Mahony recalled how he felt four years ago having been similarly honoured in New Zealand.

“I was very excited, very proud; a lot of emotions. International rugby is the pinnacle for us, but obviously the Lions is very, very special as well.

“It’s almost something you dare not to dream about at times, it’s that far up in the air. For it to be realised is an incredible feeling. It comes with a lot of responsibility and pressure as well, but there is no better man than Mur [Conor Murray] for pressure.”

He made the point that Murray is by nature a leader on the pitch, the way he runs the game, dictates play and tempo. He explained that halfbacks by virtue of position and role within a team have “an incredible understanding of the game plan and rugby in general; that all stands for a huge amount when it comes to the captaincy in my opinion”.

In the absence of Ireland’s Lions contingent, a handful of players that were excused summer duties and a few that are excluded by injury, Ireland face a Japanese team at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday (1.0) that will be determined and confident that they can back-up the 2019 World Cup success in the last meeting between the countries.

Japan smashed a glass ceiling by beating Ireland for the first time in their history. The more experienced Ireland players will understand the confidence that can be gleaned from a result of that nature. After all, it’s only five years ago that an Irish men’s team beat the All Blacks for the first time and a couple of years later managed to repeat the dose in Dublin.

Be bullish

There will be very little correlation between the Irish team that takes the pitch on Saturday to the one that was beaten at the World Cup but there are plenty of Japanese players from that victory. They’ve earned the right to be bullish and confident about their chances of winning at the weekend and for those who needed a reminder, there was one in Japan’s second-half performance against the Lions.

O’Mahony said: “Yeah, look they’ve shown their quality over the past four or five years, they are a team that can mix it with anyone. You saw passages of play last week against the Lions; their attacking game particularly is very impressive. As is their line speed in defence, they put teams under a lot of pressure. They have shown they can mix it with the best in the world.”

Ireland are defending home turf and that demands integrity of performance irrespective of who is wearing the green jerseys. O’Mahony concurred.

“There are guys at different stages [of their careers] here [in camp] but at the end of the day, you come together to play for Ireland.

“As you’ve said, it doesn’t matter who is away with the Lions or who is getting rested, the team picked next Saturday is the Irish national team and that deserves an incredible amount of respect in itself. There will be guys who get chances; there will be guys there to prove points [but everyone if playing to win].

“Look, obviously it’s a new group, so it’s about how quickly we can get together and gel and be cohesive. Seeing to be playing for each other is a big thing and playing for the Irish jersey. That’s what is measured every time you take to the field as the Irish national team. I don’t think that will change. It’s about us putting ourselves under pressure to perform. Our performance at the end of the day is the big thing.”

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