Vigilant Peter O’Mahony ready for a wounded France
Backrower has the angles covered but is aware there could be a backlash coming in Paris
Peter O’Mahony: ‘It’s international rugby and I know how important that is to me. You know how important it is to the French players and the French nation.’ Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
It’s not so hard to picture Peter O’Mahony and his high cheekbones sitting there, a big cat aware and sentinel. It is O’Mahony’s strength, that subculture he has patented of a willing partner in the trenches. Click your fingers and he’s in with you on your shoulder, a banker for commitment.
His aggression sometimes spilling into transgression, he is both a back to basics and a big moment player and with it all something natural in his personality that other players follow. Today he sits still, darting his eyes from side to side, cautious.
“We are concentrating on ourselves and videos of them as players. That’s all I can say about our analysis,” he says curtly, closing down one avenue of inquiry.
For those who cry valleys of tears, there was a large spillage when the O’Mahony will he, won’t he jump ship arose before Christmas.
Ireland’s rugby heart and Munster’s centre of gravity for sale on the open market. People were genuinely aghast at the prospect. It was like a Heaney transcript moving out of the jurisdiction.
When he was making his decision to stay in Munster, the IRFU’s cold shoulder to Racing bound Simon Zebo played its part. Also Six Nations Championship days like these.
“They’ve got to be the top one, probably, of your selection process,” says O’Mahony. “These are the days you want to play rugby. From someone who’s growing up in Ireland.”
It’s that brave general demeanour people clamour for and that he brings to Paris. Never less than canny, his eyes narrow even further with the prospect of a wounded France limping into their own coliseum.
“In some ways, I know if I was them, it would galvanise you. Everyone is questioning them,” he says. “’They’re only in a few weeks together, how can they put it together?’ But if I was them, it’s backs-to-the-walls stuff. That’s something you can feed off.
“At the end of the day, they’ve got opportunities. It’s international rugby and I know how important that is to me. You know how important it is to the French players and the French nation.
“It’s a different, more dangerous angle and we’ve got to understand it’s a different animal.”
Vigilant to all threats is how you expect O’Mahony to be. In that way he is like Joe Schmidt, an all angles covered, no surprises individual. There can be no underestimation.
France maybe be tossed and bedraggled, one coach Guy Noves back in Toulouse, another Bernard Laporte, his federation offices being raided by police. But if the French team can coalesce a few times in the match, Ireland should be, not fearful or concerned, but ready.
“They’ve obviously got a very dangerous attack, you see it in the quality of the players they have,” he says. “Their counter-attack is dangerous, just look at any of their club teams and they’re viciously dangerous from broken play.
“Their first-phase attack is always very good as well, so we’re expecting a dangerous French team.”
Eruptions of flair
Sekou Macalou is typical of the identikit “dangerous” French player. Schmidt has recently given the versatile and mobile flanker some air time. He is the athletic player given to eruptions of flair in broken play, the type of talent coach Jacques Brunel has at his disposal.
Playing now with Stade Francais, the 22-year-old, former under-20 international, was called up to the senior squad earlier this month.
“He is a very good lineout operator, he drives their line speed, he gets in your face, he’s a good player,” agrees O’Mahony.
“He’s a typically abrasive backrower along with the rest of the backrowers they’ve picked in their squad. A typically French, in your face, very physical, very up front backrow, so it’s going to be a big one.”
O’Mahony and CJ Stander should be given first dabs on the French menace. Then who knows? Josh van der Flier and Dan Leavy have O’Mahony’s physical willingness, but will take some time to grow a flinty persona like his.
“Look, it’s grown, it’s changed, there are new guys in. There is incredible excitement about this group,” he says and is reminded of 2014, when Ireland beat France 20-22 in the Stade de France.
Part of a winning Irish team in Paris. Not a large group of players in that pool.
“I remember the last few minutes when I was off, in the stands, panicking,” he says. “That’s about it to be honest.”
Okay no more talk.