He’s been written off and he’s been sidelined for a long time in the past, but the least impressive aspect of Peter O’Mahony’s undulating career has been his response to a new role as a senior team member with a substitute impact for much of this season with Ireland. There was not a hint of sulking.
The opposite in fact. In every word and deed, both on the sidelines and on the pitch, O’Mahony has been as fully engaged as ever and enjoying his time in the Irish setup more than ever. Andy Farrell speaks enthusiastically of O’Mahony’s ever-improving personality, approach and skill set, and the feeling is mutual.
“He created a great learning environment,” O’Mahony said of Farrell. “There are no silly questions to ask. There really is an environment to ask a question, to want clarity, to want understanding, an environment that allows guys to understand the game of him or her or coaches or other players in your position or at different positions. We all try to help each other.
“He kind of gave us the tools to understand our game and what our strengths and weaknesses are and what we need to work on. He’s facilitated a really nice environment in which to improve as a player, whether it’s a guy coming into the squad for the first time or a guy ten years later, there’s definitely not a player who doesn’t. not learn every day in the Irish camp. ”
“You have to keep moving, and Paul (O’Connell), Foggs (John Fogarty), Simon (Easterby), Catty (Mike Catt), they gave us the platform to reach our capacity. no real limit. You know what I mean? It depends on you and how much you want to go after, how much you want to improve. This goes for everyone, whether you are new or here for a long time, the only person what keeps you from improving is you.
This need for self-improvement is all the more acute, he says, because of backrow competition.
However, even at 32, ten years after his debut and his 83rd Test for Ireland, some things never change.
When asked if he was more nervous against England than anyone else, O’Mahony replied: “I don’t think so. Rugby in general, and in professional rugby, every game is hugely important, whether it’s with a club or a country. Obviously, the country is different from the club, there is no point in saying the opposite. Every game still brings me huge nerves. Literally 24 hours out, still feeling physically sick with what’s to come: the battle, the stipulations, wanting to play well, not wanting to let people down. This does not change regardless of your opposition. It’s always in your mind.
Yet as O’Mahony sought to argue that Ireland had a huge rivalry with every other Six Nations country, he conceded: “It would be silly to say there isn’t always something special between us. It’s always a great occasion, a great meeting. The fact that they are still a world class team is always a huge test for any team to play against them. That’s how it goes. It is certainly a big occasion when Ireland and England play each other.
Perhaps the biggest revival of O’Mahony’s career was his promotion to the starting line-up as a late substitute for injured Jamie Heaslip in the 2017 Six Nations final in Dublin.
It was O’Mahony’s first start against a top-tier opponent since rupturing his cruciate ligament in Ireland’s costly final win over France 17 months previously. Yet his barnstorming man of the match in a 13-9 victory that deprived England of the Grand Slam propelled him into the British and Irish Lions squad, when he captained the side in the of the first test.
He was also part of the Irish squad that sealed the Grand Slam at Twickenham a year later and has played against England more than any other international side. But he also had his fair share of tough days against them, recording four wins and eight defeats, and that 2018 crowning glory remains Ireland’s only win on the previous seven occasions he played at Twickenham.
O’Mahony notes England’s win ratio at Twickenham – “I think they’re up around 86 per cent of home wins, maybe more” – and therefore Ireland’s need for good play in all areas, especially because he feels a great performance is coming from England.
“Being back at home, against us in their arena, I’m sure they’re going to bring their best game yet, so that’s what we have to prepare for and bring our best game as well.”