Tuesday 20 November 2018

Comment: Peter O'Mahony's tense interview showed he's the man to lead Ireland in November

Peter O'Mahony of the British & Irish Lions during the First Test match between New Zealand All Blacks and the British & Irish Lions at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Peter O'Mahony of the British & Irish Lions during the First Test match between New Zealand All Blacks and the British & Irish Lions at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Jack O'Toole

With Ireland captain Rory Best in doubt for next month's November internationals with a hamstring injury, Head Coach Joe Schmidt may have to look elsewhere for an interim captain.

Rhys Ruddock led Ireland valiantly during the summer but with CJ Stander, Sean O'Brien and Peter O'Mahony all returning to the national fold, it's hard to see Ruddock working his way into the matchday squad, let alone the starting XV, given the added presence of provincial teammates Jack Conan and Josh van der Flier.

And so Schmidt must now look for a successor to Best. At 35, the evergreen hooker is in the twilight of his career and at some point in the very near future, the New Zealander is going to have to appoint his long term successor.

O'Mahony has always been the frontrunner to succeed Best and on Saturday he strengthened his case, but not through anything he did on the paddock.

The flanker's two carries and 11 tackles was rather modest by his own standards, especially considering that six Munster players cleared the double-digit mark in tackles made, but it was his confrontational interview with former Leinster prop Reggie Corrigan that publicly showed his leadership qualities. Privately it seems like they've been there from the first day he walked into Thomond Park.

You could accuse Munster of a lot of things yesterday but intensity in sport is generally synonymous with effort. Munster were ill-disciplined, their backs looked grossly out of sync and their scrum was dominated, but their effort was there.

Rassie Erasmus' side won 74 of their 77 rucks in attack and they made an impressive 125 out of 139 tackles in defence, that's 90% for those keeping score at home.

John Ryan's glaring miss on Rory O'Loughlin in the lead up to Leinster's first try was part of the 10% that ultimately proved the difference on the scoreboard, but statistically speaking, the numbers support O'Mahony's argument that his side's downfall had more to do with execution than application.

But that didn't stop Corrigan from entering those waters.

Reggie Corrigan: 'What do you think about the intensity from your team-mates out there? Was there enough in the game? Did they give enough do you think?'

Peter O'Mahony: 'What do you mean? Are you questioning my team-mates?'

Reggie Corrigan: 'I'm talking about the intensity that came from the team, did you feel they were giving as much as they could possibly give out there?'

Peter O'Mahony: 'Yes, 100%.'

Reggie Corrigan: 'I'm not trying to catch you out Peter, I'm just asking the question of whether you felt maybe they left something in the dressing room, that there was more they could have given?'

Peter O'Mahony: 'No, 100% not.'

As someone who has been in Corrigan's shoes before, I can empathise with his situation and how quickly his interview escalated, but ultimately it's fight or flight in those scenarios, you either double down on your line of questioning or you abandon ship.

It's why I say emphatise and not sympathise. I empathise with anyone locked in a staredown with a German Shepherd, but I don't sympathise if that Shepherd bites when it has been provoked.

Corrigan tried on three separate occasions to get O'Mahony to bite, and he did, on the first occassion. It was clear then that the Munster captain wasn't going to engage with Corrigan's line of questioning and nor should he of.

O'Mahony was the first to point out Munster's difficulties with their set-piece as well as their ill-discipline, he knows what they are and he knows what they are not. To question his side's intensity is to question effort, and competitors like O'Mahony generally don't take too well to such lines of questioning.

Irish captains have traditionally followed a similar suit in the past but most of them also possess a quality that O'Mahony showed in spades on Saturday; they give a sh*t.

Anyone who gets to O'Mahony's level obviously thrives in that department, but Saturday was the first time that we've really seen that type of leadership, at least publicly.

We've all seen the Paul O'Connell 'fear of god speech'. We've seen Brian O'Driscoll's powerful speech on what a British & Irish Lions series win would mean to him. We've seen Rory Best's leadership skills through two Lions documentaries.

The players and coaches of course see these leaders every day. A few speeches caught on camera won't mean a whole lot to professional rugby players, but it does mean something to them when their effort and intensity is questioned. Then it counts for something.

When Anthony Foley passed last year, O'Mahony was visibly shaken when he had to address the media and talk about the untimely death of a former teammate and coach. But he fronted up and he spoke poignantly and candidly.

Back then he showed that he had the emotion and the compassion to lead. On Saturday he showed that he had the fire. A strong case that continues to grow stronger.

Online Editors

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