Wednesday 21 March 2018

'Deputy duo fit in nicely'

O'Callaghan hails O'Mahony and Ryan as driving force behind victory over Scotland

FOUR down. One to go. The big one.

It's England. At Twickenham. The match that always sends a shiver of excitement and trauma shooting down through the nervous system. On St Patrick's Day.

Scotland came. Scotland saw. Scotland retreated. It wasn't quite as simple as that at the Aviva on Saturday. In fact, Andy Robinson's troops advanced strongly in the first 10 minutes. Fly-half Greig Laidlaw shot them six points clear. But, from there, they went nowhere.

Ireland's third-choice captain, Rory Best, made a first-rate decision to go for the jugular instead of the posts from a penalty. Out-half Jonathan Sexton rifled the ball to within five metres of the Scottish line.

Lineout leader Donnacha Ryan called the throw on himself in an impressive act of self-belief. Best connected. Donncha O'Callaghan peeled away to find Peter O'Mahony, who drew in Ross Ford, for Best to drop the shoulder and pound over Mike Blair in the corner.

Sexton's touchline conversion gave Ireland first sight of a lead they never lost from there, eventually running out 18-point winners (32-14) and by four tries to one.

For all the chatter about moving on and always looking forward, never back over your shoulder, O'Callaghan let slip the relevance of Scotland's shock defeat of Ireland on the last day at GAA headquarters two years ago.

"It was good to get a result like that against a team that's always a sticky one for us. Two years ago was in our minds an awful lot, with it being the last game in Croke Park," O'Callaghan said.

This terrible twin was missing his alter-ego, Paul O'Connell. The best compliment that can be paid to Ryan is that it never showed.

The bustling, hustling Ryan, a Nenagh native, was the very epitome of controlled aggression, channelling all the excitement and energy he got from selection into a wonderfully productive performance.

"Yeah he was great! People think it's down to doing the right thing at the right time, but it's not," said O'Callaghan, the man whose jersey Ryan has taken for most of the season at Munster. "It's down to hours of tedious video work and, to be fair to him, he put it in this week and he got the rewards from it.

"And he stepped in there into big shoes with no bother and it was great to see it."

Ryan wasn't the only Munster man to seize the day. O'Mahony has been kept on the back burner for long enough at the tender age of 22.

The signpost to international success was there when he was made captain of his club in the PRO12 League during the World Cup. He is made of the right stuff. It was always a matter of when, not if, for him.

"I suppose those two lads have been playing on form," said O'Callaghan. "It's not just coming in the last few weeks. They've been playing quality rugby for the last year and that is what it's all about because international rugby is up another level."


O'Callaghan did reveal a sense of "frustration" at the constant references to Brian O'Driscoll and O'Connell, "because people think you can't tie your laces without them".

While the Irish pack have had forwards coach Gert Smal, O'Connell and Sean O'Brien taken out of the equation in the past three weeks, scrum coach Greg Feek and the front row club have taken charge.

"Everyone just wanted to put in a big pack performance and I think we did that, especially in the scrum. To be fair, I think it's turned into a bit of a weapon for us," added O'Callaghan.

"Our scrum probably doesn't get enough mention but to be fair to Greg Feek, he's got to get an awful lot of praise for the work he's done. We're reaping the reward of getting good coaching. An awful lot of credit will go to Mike (Ross), Cian (Healy) and Rory (Best).

"But I think they're getting such clear detail, which is heaven to get from coaches. They can pick out the relevant points and work on it."

The set-piece will have to be in tip-top condition against a formidable England pack that will look back on last year's dismantling by Ireland at the Aviva Stadium as their greatest source of motivation.

"Next week is a huge ask now," said O'Callaghan. "Four big games like this on the bounce, it's a little bit unfair on us, but that's the way it's gone. But we don't need to get motivated for that last one."

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