Peter O’Mahony expects a different Wallabies challenge
‘It’s a very proud moment for me and all my family and stuff, so it’s a huge moment’
Peter O’Mahony and Tadhg Beirne during a training session at Royal Pines resort, Gold Coast, Queensland. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
The Irish squad completed their Friday eve-of-match captain’s run with a clean bill of health in Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium and as he faced into only his fourth test as captain of his country, Peter O’Mahony was of no doubt that come kick-off (8.05pm/11.05am Irish time) they will need all hands on deck. This, he said, was both a different challenge and a massive one.
Even for O’Mahony captaining Ireland in Australia is new territory. He has led Ireland three times before, twice on the 2013 tour to the USA and Canada, and once more against the Canucks at the Aviva Stadium in November 2016. He also of course, captained the Lions in the first test against the All Blacks 50 weeks ago last summer, which is a more relevant barometer for this first test.
“It’s a huge honour,” he admitted in that focussed, low-key way of his. “It’s a big honour to be selected in any Irish team and any time you get a jersey is a special one but obviously, it’s just a little more special when you’re picked to captain your country. It’s a very proud moment for me and all my family and stuff, so it’s a huge moment.”
Alas, none of his family would be to witness it in person. “They’ve done a fair bit of travelling now so it’s a long way to come again.”
A natural born leader, O’Mahony has captained every team he has played for, and brings plenty of leadership experience to the role in Rory Best’s absence, but admitted: “You’re always learning and developing. The players I’ve been lucky enough to play alongside all my career have been special people that you pick up a lot from and you try and take little bits out of what they teach you and try and use them yourself. You’re always learning and adding little things here and there.”
Ireland are second in the world rankings, and may have usurped the Wallabies (fourth), but they’ve lost their last 10 matches away to them on Aussie soil since that last series win in 1979. O’Mahony’s respect, and even admiration, for them was palpable.
“The history they have, they are one of the best teams in the world and have been for as long as I can recall. I don’t think anything has changed there. From watching Super Rugby when I was small, all the Tri-Nations up to today, they’ve been one of the form teams in the world for a long, long time and nothing has changed.”
Needless to say, the Irish captain highlighted the twin threat of his counterpart as Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper and the returning David Pocock over the ball in a back-row as good as any in the world, but maintained there was more to them than that.
“I think their ability to carry ball, their general rugby ability is probably second to none, and their passing skills. They’re two complete rugby players. They’ve been around for a long, long time yet Michael Hooper is only 26, 27 and he has 80-add caps and Pocock even more again, so that’s the experience that they have.”
“And not just the two of them, a big chunk of that Australian squad played in the World Cup final not that long ago so they’ve huge amount of consistency here and experience and that’s something that will certainly stand to them tomorrow.”
O’Mahony also highlighted how their halfbacks, Will Genia and Bernard Foley, play off quick ruck ball, and the ensuing threat out wide of strike runners Dane Haylett-Petty, Israel Folau and Marika Koroibete. “These guys are incredibly dangerous with quick ruck ball and their ability to strike wide from pretty much anywhere on the pitch is hugely challenging.
“But you add that to the physicality that Australia bring. I don’t think a huge amount of people have been talking about it, they’re one of the most physical teams in the world and that’s the reason why they’re one of the top teams in the world. That mix is incredibly to stop when they get quick ball.”
“It’s been great,” O’Mahony said of the way the 22-year-old has run training this week. “He’s an incredible footballer, I don’t have to tell you that. He’s really grown into that leadership role. I suppose over the past two years he’s been getting better and better and he’s a big character in the squad, which you need from your 10. I think he’s growing all the time and it’s a huge opportunity for him tomorrow.”