Peter O’Mahony ready to lead by example as Munster gear up for Gloucester test

Captain says Rob Penney’s side are now in cup mode – one more defeat and they’re out

Munster captain Peter O’Mahony in training with the squad at Limerick University yesterday. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Munster captain Peter O’Mahony in training with the squad at Limerick University yesterday. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

 

As a man of action, and a leader by deed rather than word of mouth, being a non-playing captain sits particularly uneasily with Peter O’Mahony. Not even his role as waterboy relaying information from the sidelines is much of a substitute, not least when his team is imploding in Murrayfield.

“It is a tough place to be but we’ve plenty of senior players in the group who are well able to speak and captain sides and lead a Munster team. So I didn’t feel like I had to but it is a tough place to be when you are seen as a leader but you can’t really pipe up if you haven’t got an action to do.”

O’Mahony, of course, did not play after suffering suspected concussion against Leinster when replaced at the interval moments after seemingly being knocked out when his head came into contact with Sean Cronin’s knee. Even though Munster insisted he had been rested against Edinburgh and had been cleared of concussion, he now returns. “I felt very good even last week but 100 per cent this week and am raring to go.”

Know best
It’s almost as if Munster have to do this to themselves and, ala the cup wins of 2006 and ’08, a fourth opening defeat in the last five years places them in the traditional time-honoured, backs-against-the-wall place; the place they know best.

“We have five cup games left, that’s the way we’re looking at it. It’s cup rugby from now on. That’s the result of losing your first game; you’re into cup rugby. It’s semi-finals and quarter-finals from now on. If we lose we’re out.”

In this, of course, it has echoes of previous campaigns, not least a year ago after opening loss away to Racing Metro, and there was the reprieve of Craig Laidlaw’s penalty hitting the bar and thus not denying Munster a bonus point.

“It’s almost a carbon copy. It’s not a great place to be; your first game and you’re almost on the back foot. But Rob (Penney) made the point that we have a bonus point.

“We’d probably be in big trouble if that ball had been the other side of the crossbar. The good thing is we’ve another opportunity this weekend.”

It seems a tad unfair that whenever Munster lose the Rob Penney game plan is cited, and whenever they win, it is attributed to the players. But there has been an effective balance to Munster’s game plan this season, notably against Leinster, whereas last Saturday’s defeat appeared as much to do with the mental attitude, as manifest in curious lineout and defensive malfunctions.

Game plan
“Nobody talks about it when we win and all of a sudden it becomes an issue when we lose,” said a slightly exasperated O’Mahony. “Our game plan is based around our physicality and when we don’t implement ourselves, any game plan, regardless of what game plan it is, is going to be useless when it is rugby. It is a physical contact sport. If you’re not winning contacts or not winning carries, it doesn’t matter if you are the All Blacks . . if you’re not winning those collisions you are going to look ordinary.

“We enjoy playing the rugby we’re playing. . . but, if you’re not going to carry the ball well and implement yourself physically there’s no point.”

O’Mahony also echoed Rob Penney’s comments that the Edinburgh defeat had been analysed and put aside on Monday, the focus thereafter switching towards Gloucester, a slightly un-English team in that they are more liable to cut you open than bully you into submission.

“They’re renowned for their counter-attacking prowess and their ability to rip teams open,” said Penney. “They’ve got threats across their backline and their pack’s been able to supply them with enough possession and allow those backs to unleash themselves.

Last week
“They competed against a big Perpignan pack last week really efficiently. There are times in the Premiership when they’ve struggled a bit for possession but last week they showed that when they get their number one pack out there, they’re capable. They’ve got dangerous threats from broken play and from set-piece they’ve got some good strikes.”

A Saturday evening encounter against English opposition has a certain resonance, not least with the final pool game against Gloucester in 2003, aka the Miracle Match. About 21,000 tickets are sold, but category B and terrace tickets, at €40 and €30 are still available.

As was the case 11 seasons ago, in Munster’s latest hour of need the crowd will be a key factor.

“It’s a world-renowned stadium for its home-crowd support and the people of the Munster region have gone to Thomond Park many times and carried the team home. . ,” said Penney.

“When the team has its back against the wall and is desperate to do well, there’s nothing like a Thomond Park crowd to help them unleash themselves.”