Monday 20 November 2017

Rookie O'Malley eager for duel with 'blond Lomu' of French rugby

Hugh Farrelly

AURELIEN ROUGERIE stands six-foot-four, weighs 16 and-a-half stone, has 59 caps for France and 22 international tries.

Known in France as the 'blond Jonah Lomu' or simply 'Rolo' (the horse), the 30-year-old Clermont captain has an impressive strike rate in Europe also, clocking up 26 tries from 45 appearances.

An intimidating prospect by any standards, even for Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll, who was scheduled to square up to the giant Frenchman until a jaw injury against Argentina last month made Leinster's task even harder. Into the breach steps Eoin O'Malley, the 5'11" Old Belvederian who only turned 22 in July, has just 16 Leinster caps to his name and gives away three stone in weight to his exalted opposite number.

If O'Malley is assigned O'Driscoll's No 13 jersey this weekend, he will be targeted by Rougerie and Clermont's other big ball carriers like the 18-stone, 17-times capped All Blacks No 8 Sione Lauaki.

So, is the Heineken Cup rookie cowed at the prospect?

Not a bit of it.

"It's something I'd be really looking forward to," says O'Malley.

"It would be a big chance to prove myself and to play at that level would be pretty exciting. Obviously, he (Rougerie) is a world class player, apart from his size, and I think they have them all across the team-sheet.

"I've been lucky enough to be training against Brian (O'Driscoll) and Gordon (D'Arcy) for the last few years and that's a big enough challenge itself. I'm not the biggest man, so it's not a surprise for me to be marking someone bigger than me.

"It's going to be a big challenge if I am involved and he (Rougerie) is obviously a seriously strong player.

"I'll have to be fully focused and concentrating. I'm looking forward to it," he adds, before highlighting the importance of Joe Schmidt's inside knowledge following the Leinster coach's three years as Clermont backs coach.

"They definitely are a team that like to throw the ball around. They have big, strong and fast guys with good skills. It is a very attractive brand of rugby they play, and hopefully, we'll be able to stop it on Sunday.

"It was Joe (Schmidt) who probably got them playing like that and hopefully he'll know how to dismantle them as well."

Having fought his way back from a hip problem that led to groin tears and hernias and an 11-month spell on the sidelines, O'Malley has made a powerful start to the season, making nine appearances and completing 80 minutes in seven of those outings.

Last Friday, he crossed for his first senior try, helping Leinster to snatch a 17-17 draw away to the Scarlets.

It was a sweet moment for O'Malley, although he was less than happy with the overall performance.

"It was nice to get it out of the way alright.

"I didn't have to do a whole lot for it, but you don't want to be the lad who has got 50 caps, but hasn't scored a try.

"I don't think anyone was thrilled coming away from it. I suppose a lot of us were feeling that on the one hand we were lucky to get a draw, while on the other hand, disappoin-ted not to push on and get the win.

"So, it was definitely mixed," he concedes.

"I do feel I missed out on a year, but there's nothing you can do about it now; it's gone and it was nice in a way for me to start a new slate with Joe, because I've been fit since he came in.

"Now that I'm back, I'm back."

Irish Independent

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