Peter O’Mahony aims for happier return to Rome

Flanker ended up on the wing in Ireland’s Six Nations defeat on their last visit to Italy

 Peter O’Mahony battling in his last match at the Stadio Olimpico, a time he calls a “dark old spot”.    Photograph: James Crombie/INPHO

Peter O’Mahony battling in his last match at the Stadio Olimpico, a time he calls a “dark old spot”. Photograph: James Crombie/INPHO

 

will recall fondly. It may be a dream for many a young player to play on the wing for Ireland, but as a wing-forward it was not O’Mahony’s, and certainly not an emergency winger before half-time.

Yet that was the fate that befell O’Mahony and Ireland on their only previous visit to Rome’s Stadio Olimpico two seasons ago. Already shorn of several frontliners during the campaign, between the 24th and 36th minutes, Keith Earls, Luke Marshall and Earls’ replacement, Luke Fitzgerald, all departed injured, and O’Mahony moved to the left wing four minutes before half-time.

“I don’t know if it was a dream or nightmare now, to be honest,” said O’Mahony wryly yesterday. “I certainly wasn’t dreaming about playing on the wing but sometimes these things happen and you have to adapt and get on with it. I certainly wasn’t learning the position from a winger. I said we’d get through it but we didn’t, we were well beaten that day.”

Considering the carnage, it’s a wonder Ireland finished within a score, 22-15, as Italy recorded their first win in 16 attempts in the Six Nations. Indeed, for O’Mahony’s first couple of minutes on the wing, Brian O’Driscoll was seeing out the second yellow card of his entire test career. “That was early on,” recalled O’Mahony. “It was a strange old day.”

Eye-opener

That defeat condemned Ireland to a fifth place finish and signalled the end of both the 2013 Six Nations and Declan Kidney’s time as Ireland head coach. As the Italians and the majority of the 74,000-plus crowd celebrated wildly, it also meant the players had more time to stew on being the first Irish players to lose to Italy in the tournament.

Admittedly, Ireland have taken a long journey since that grim day when Wayne Barnes also sinbinned Donnacha Ryan and Conor Murray, as well as Sergio Parisse.

“Yeah, yeah, it’s a different place,” said O’Mahony.

“That was a dark old spot, that day, last game of the Six Nations, yeah, and the personnel hasn’t changed a huge amount, which is probably the most frustrating thing about the time. We had a great group but we just weren’t showing up for each other. Disappointing times all right.”

For that reason, the Munster captain and Ireland blindside maintains their only previous visit to the Stadio Olimpico, will have no bearing on their second sortie there on Saturday in this year’s Six Nations opener.

“I don’t think so. Not for me. Well, you certainly do analyse them and the way they start tournaments, especially at home. The Italian sides are extremely good, they’re really well nailed on, they’re fired up for the start of a tournament, I think, and they’re certainly more dangerous because they’re at home and it’s going to take a big 80 minute performance from us.”

Progressed

On message

“It’s literally zero of our thoughts. We haven’t talked about it. Personally it isn’t in my head. It’s a new chapter. It’s a new competition. It’s put to bed. It’s not going to help us. It’s not going to help us on Saturday against Italy. It’s purely Italy first.”

Accordingly, he will enjoy the occasional stroll around and coffee with team-mates, but his second visit to the Eternal City is strictly business.

“You’d still go for a walk and wander the streets. But you wouldn’t have the old guide book out wandering around on a three-or-four-hour walk.”

“It’s funny. I can say I’ve travelled all over the place but I haven’t really travelled or seen anything. You just get to your hotel, and especially as it’s so close to the game, you’re just in your starting zone and that kind of stuff is irrelevant.”

He’ll return to Rome as a tourist one day. This weekend he’s a rugby player.

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