Peter O’Mahony’s display earns lavish praise from Paul O’Connell
‘Incredible,’ says the Munster and Ireland captain. ‘I’ve known Peter since he was about 18, he’s always had big leadership attributes’
Finally it happened. Paul O’Connell produces one of those epic Paul O’Connell performances only to be outplayed by a team-mate.
Of course O’Connell was still fighting a chest infection. That prompted Joe Schmidt to do what his two predecessors never even contemplated; removing O’Connell and tighthead prop Mike Ross on 54 minutes. That decision, more than anything else, proves we have entered a new, more adventurous era in Irish rugby.
To O’Connell, feeling woozy and betraying as much with his body language was nothing short of disgraceful behaviour. “I had my hands on my head a few times, bent over a few times. That’s just not acceptable.”
Dan Tuohy arrived, promptly fracturing his forearm, so in came Tommy O’Donnell with Peter O’Mahony shunted into the secondrow. Problem immediately solved.
For Cork’s latest sporting warlord this all consuming 80 minutes had been brewing. Go back to Houston last June when manners needed putting on Todd Clever, Samu Manoa and friends. It was O’Mahony who took the punishment.
“Incredible,” said O’Connell. “I’ve known Peter since he was about 18, he’s always had big leadership attributes about him.”
Then came the ultimate comparison for any man carved out of Munster granite. “He is a little bit like a David Wallace, he’s a very powerful guy, and it has taken a small bit of time to accumulate the fitness levels required. Those powerful guys it takes them a little bit longer than the likes of myself!
‘All the attributes’
“I just think he has added fitness to all the attributes he has. He’s an excellent lineout jumper both defensively and in attack, he is very good on the ground. He’s an excellent carrier.
“He’s a very passionate guy as well,” O’Connell continued. “He’s captaining Munster at the moment and we are obviously top of the Rabo and we’ve qualified for a home quarter-final so he probably has got a lot of confidence from that.
“He comes in here then and plays with the likes of Jamie, Chris Henry, Johnny, Brian and it’s another step up again. He’s really enjoying it at the moment. He’s a great guy to play alongside.”
First sight of the controlled ferocity came in the fourth minute when O’Connell put a thumping hit on the Racing Metro 92 flanker who had given him some tackling tips on the Lions tour last summer. Before Adam Jones and Gethin Jenkins could secure possession O’Mahony was in over Dan Lydiate to give Wayne Barnes a perfect picture. Penalty Ireland and the first of many bruising back slaps for the 24 year old.
“I’m getting there,” he said of his breakdown prowess. “I’m always learning. There is still a lot of work to be done. I’m far from the finished article but I’m enjoying it at the moment. I’m learning a lot under the new coaching staff and I’m learning a lot from the players I’m playing alongside as well.”
“I think he could have been man of the match last week as well,” said Schmidt. “At the same time I think he is really well complimented by Chris Henry . . . I also think Jamie had a big game as well.”
Crank into gear
Instead of sparking a response from the Welsh backrow or power wingers, his tag-team partnership with O’Connell saw the Jamie Heaslip and Cian Healy combination crank into gear while the Torvill and Dean of Ireland centre play refused to be eclipsed.
But O’Mahony was undoubtedly first among equals. Be it grabbing the collar of Alun Wyn Jones in the opening exchanges. Find their biggest lug and challenge him. Playground rules. Pure Munster stuff. That sumptuous line kick with the outside of his right boot cannot go unmentioned either.
Or saving a dodgy lineout throw or struggling to spit out his gum-shield to argue with Barnes on 63 minutes, and thereby cleverly avoid a sin-binning after tearing down a Wales lineout. Best of all though was his man handling and turnover of Sam Warburton on 48 minutes.
Scooped up and enveloped by team-mates, he was chest-thumping like Jordan Belfort.
“Probably Wednesday by the time you’d come back around, yeah. Certainly 48 hours, you’d try not to do much only the pool. It would be Wednesday before you come around.”
Time for a well earned cup of tea from masseur Willie Bennett and some reflection on a brief cameo in the second row (he was a winger in Rome last March). “Jesus, they can have it lads.”
So long as Ireland have him on the field. Anywhere will do.