Peter O’Mahony realistic about his Lions prospects and focused on Rainbow Cup
Munster’s need to beat Leinster is acute, if only to overcome psychological hurdle
Peter O’Mahony during Munster rugby squad training in the University of Limerick this week. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/INPHO
Just over four years ago Peter O’Mahony had been named on the Ireland bench for the third Six Nations game in a row on the final weekend against England at home. The Lions squad was to be announced a month later and his name probably wasn’t on Warren Gatland’s radar.
His only international start since suffering the knee ligament damage in the World Cup pool decider against France in October 2015 which sidelined him for a year had been against Canada. But after Jamie Heaslip was withdrawn before kick-off, O’Mahony was promoted to the starting backrow, had a stormer and was man of the match in a 13-9 win. He played four more games for Munster, leading them to a European quarter-final win over Toulouse, was named in the Lions squad (four years ago on Monday) and captained them in the first Test against the All Blacks.
Going into this year’s Six Nations, since the last Lions tour O’Mahony had been virtually a fixture in the Irish team, playing in 33 out of 38 Tests. Whereupon, his first-half red card in the opening game against Wales led to a three-match ban, thus restricting him to the last 16 minutes against England.
This was compounded by the laceration to his leg which he suffered in the Pro14 final against Leinster and sidelined him for Munster’s Euro quarter-final defeat by Toulouse.It can be a cruel game alright.
Looking ahead to the Lions squad announcement in a fortnight’s time, O’Mahony is realistic about his prospects this time. “I don’t think I’ve played enough rugby if I’m honest with myself. That’s just the way the cards have fallen. Obviously the Six Nations is a big one at this time of the year and unfortunately that didn’t go very well with the way I ended up with the red card. That’s just the way it went and unfortunately I haven’t played enough to consider myself for that tour.
“But hopefully I’ll be looking forward to the tour with Fiji if that goes ahead and I’m picked with Ireland on that, so plenty to play for with Ireland and the Rainbow Cup now. I’m looking forward to putting a run of games together hopefully.”
Munster’s Euro exit also means this Saturday’s Rainbow Cup opener against Leinster at the RDS is O’Mahony’s only game between now and the Lions’ squad announcement. Given Munster have lost the previous four meetings since August, and 10 of the last 11, their need is acute, if only to overcome a psychological hurdle.
“Look, guys know the recent record,” said the Munster captain in stressing there was no need for this to be mentioned in team talks. “I don’t need to spell it out for them.
‘We need to win’
“It’s great to be challenging yourself this regularly against a team like them but we need to win. For lots of reasons, we need to win, and that hasn’t changed the last three or four times that we’ve been beaten by them, we’ve said the same thing.
“So it’s just up to us to figure out a way. You’re playing a very, very good side, which is great, it’s making us better every time, but obviously we’re not sitting here to be on the losing side. We want to win, so that’s the focus.”
Nor did he particularly feel that Munster needed to copy their rivals in any way.
“We’re very different clubs, even though we’re very close in lots of ways. But we’ve got our own way of doing things down here and it’s not about wanting what other clubs have, not just in Ireland or in Europe, it’s about creating our own path and creating our own way.
“All I want us to do is win and to do it our way, I don’t have an appetite for what other clubs want to do. Some of them are doing it very well but we’ll figure out our own way.”
Munster’s recent player dealings, releasing JJ Hanrahan and Darren Sweetnam while signing another South African back five forward, Jason Jenkins, but also promoting from within and re-signing Simon Zebo, has drawn plenty of attention.
Promoting from the academy is “hugely important” according to O’Mahony, but so too are “clever signings”, given their buy-in and legacy.
“You can’t compete really with the best in Europe and even Ireland without the complement of both and I think we have that balanced very well at the moment,” he added, citing the possible return of RG Snyman before the end of the season.
Hailed Zebo’s return
O’Mahony hailed Zebo’s return in the summer. “It’s great to have him back, above all he’s a special rugby player. He’ll know himself he has a lot of work to do to come back in but no better man for big occasions and at times when we’ve needed to play well he’s always stepped up to the plate for us.
“It’s always good to have another Corkman in the squad,” he added with tongue in cheek, “and another Munster man back in the club.”
This Rainbow Cup also marks a last hurrah for the retiring Billy Holland, CJ Stander and Tommy O’Donnell.
“A lot of caps are going to retire at the end of the season and it’ll be difficult next season trying to replace that experience certainly.”
Indeed, that trio have a whopping total of 583 Munster caps between them.
“But with regard to them being around for the rest of this season all I want is to be playing well and for Munster to be winning, and whatever that takes for us or them to do that’s the priority. That’s the way they’ve carried on for the last 12,13,14 years and that’s why they’ve been here for so long. They’ve put the club first, and that won’t change over the next few months.”