He's been written off and he's been sidelined at length in the past, but not the least impressive aspect of Peter O'Mahony's undulating career has been his response to a new role as senior squad member cum impact replacement for much of this season with Ireland. There hasn't been a hint of sulkiness.
The opposite in fact. In his every word and deed, both on the sidelines and on the pitch, O'Mahony has been as fully engaged as ever and is enjoying his time in the Irish set-up more than ever. Andy Farrell speaks glowingly of O'Mahony's personality, approach and ever improving skills, and the feeling is reciprocal.
“He’s created a great learning environment,” O’Mahony said of Farrell. “There’s isn’t a silly question to be asked. There’s very much an environment of asking a question, wanting clarity, understanding, an environment that facilitates guys getting an understanding of the game from him or her or coaches or other players in your position or different positions. We all try to help each other out.
“He’s kind of given the tools back to us to figure out our game and what our strengths are and our weaknesses and what we need to work on. He’s facilitated a real pleasant environment to get better as a player, be it a guy coming in for the first time in the group or a guy ten years on, there certainly isn’t a player that’s not learning every single day in Irish camp.”
“You’ve got to keep moving, and Paul (O’Connell), Foggs (John Fogarty), Simon (Easterby), Catty (Mike Catt), they’ve given us the platform to reach our capacity. There’s no limit really. You know what I mean? It depends on you and how much you want to go after it, how much you want to get better. That goes for anyone, whether you’re new in or here for a long time, the only person stopping your capacity to get better is you.”
This need for self-improvement is all the more acute, he says, because of the backrow competition.
However, even at 32, ten years on from his debut and entering his 83rd Test for Ireland, some things never change.
Asked if he was more nervous facing England than anyone else, O’Mahony said: “I don’t think so. Rugby in general, and in professional rugby, every game is hugely important whether it’s with club or country. Obviously country is different from club, there’s no point in saying otherwise. Every game brings massive nerves for me still. Literally 24 hours out, still feeling physically ill with what’s coming up: the battle, the stipulations, wanting to play well, not wanting to let people down. That doesn’t change regardless of your opposition. It’s always in your mind.”
Yet while O'Mahony sought to maintain that Ireland has a huge rivalry with all the other Six Nations countries, he conceded: "It'd be foolish to say there isn't always something special between the two of us. It's always a huge occasion, a huge encounter. The fact that they're consistently a world-class outfit, it's always a huge test for any team to play against them. That's the way it goes. It certainly is a huge occasion when Ireland and England play each other."
Perhaps the greatest revival in O'Mahony's career was when promoted to the starting line-up as a late, late replacement for the stricken Jamie Heaslip in the 2017 Six Nations finale in Dublin.
It was O’Mahony’s first start against tier one opposition since rupturing his cruciate ligament in Ireland’s costly final pool win over France 17 months previously. Yet his barnstorming man of the match display in a 13-9 win which denied England the Grand Slam propelled him into the British & Irish Lions squad, when he captained the side in the first Test.
He was also part of the Irish side which sealed the Grand Slam in Twickenham a year later and has played against England more than any other international side. But he’s had his fair share of tough days against them too, experiencing four wins and eight defeats, and that 2018 coronation remains Ireland’s only win on the seven previous occasions he’s played at Twickenham.
O’Mahony notes England’s winning ratio at Twickenham - “I think they are up around 86 percent of home victories, maybe more” - and hence the need for Ireland to play well in all areas, not least as he senses a big performance is coming from England.
“Being back at home, against us in their arena, I’m sure they’re going to bring their best game yet, so that’s what we’ve got to prepare for and bring our best game as well.”