Sunday 19 November 2017

Gatland looking to iron man of Munster O'Mahony

Leinster duo set to start in Lions forward pack against the best

Peter O’Mahony encourages the troops. Photo: Sportsfile
Peter O’Mahony encourages the troops. Photo: Sportsfile

All Black openside Sam Cane looked less than convinced when informed by a journalist that it looks like Peter O'Mahony will captain The British & Irish Lions into the first test.

"You're telling me? Cheers coach, you heard it here first," joked Cane.

Given a moment to collect his thoughts, the successor to Richie McCaw's crown was spot-on in his observation of the Irishman.

"He's got quite a rugged approach to the game and he does it very well," said The Chief.


"He's obviously a very strong lineout forward, an uncompromising type of player, who leads by example.

sean o'brien
sean o'brien

"I'm sure if - like you tell me - he's the skipper and he's on the side of the scrum, we'll do our best not to let him disrupt us."

It reveals a lot about Warren Gatland's mindset that his tour captain Sam Warburton and prospective test match leader O'Mahony are known more for their disruption than their pro-active play.

Even when it comes to O'Mahony's mastery of the lineout, it is usually mentioned in a defensive context.

You only have to cast your memory back to Ireland's 13-9 defeat of Grand Slam seeking England in March and that ball he swiped from Maro Itoje deep into the second-half at The Aviva Stadium .

It was that single performance that tipped the scales of balance in his favour for the tour.

For, O'Mahony had been sidelined by injury and, in truth, form as Ireland coach Joe Schmidt stayed loyal to CJ Stander, Seán O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip as his first choice back-row.

That was still the plan for England until Heaslip pulled out in the warm-up due to injury.

At his core, O'Mahony is made of Munster mettle as a protégé of Paul O'Connell, the spiritual and vocal leader from the 2013 series in Australia.

He was brought up on a mentality of winning every inch, not every mile.

Of course, Ireland scrum coach Greg Feek is a man with a more intimate knowledge of O'Mahony's game.

"When it becomes a bit more set-piece and physical exchanges, he excels in that," said Feek.

The Corkman was widely expected to follow in the footsteps of O'Connell as Ireland captain.

The onset of injuries threatened his durability and the deep resources in the back-row placed in doubt his right to start.

Now that Rory Best wears the armband, O'Mahony could be about to audition for the Irish role when the Ulsterman's tenure comes to an end.

"He brings certain things outside of the field and in the changing-room," continued Feek.

"He's the sort of guy that doesn't say too much, but says things that prickle the hairs on the back of your neck."

As Ireland looked to complete a three-match sweep of the United States and Japan, the former All Black prop was keen to take a time-out to appreciate the Munster man.

"If it is true then we're all proud of him here," he said. "We all know how passionate he is about the game and the way he goes about things. He's a leader that leads from the front. He says 'follow me' and doesn't shirk the hard yards."

It would seem the strong speculation had reached Tokyo as Feek slipped into a state of certainty.

"We'll be watching with real interest in terms of how he leads the team.

"We know what he brings."

There was also excitement at what Seán O'Brien and Tadhg Furlong can provide from the start and Jack McGrath from the bench.

Further, Iain Henderson and Stander did themselves no harm with significant impact in Waikato yesterday.

"We all know what they can bring," added Feek.

"I think being in that environment, what they are doing, and how they are perceived by the coaches - walking the talk is probably what got them there," he added.

"Some of them can turn the switch and put the work in."

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