Tuesday 17 September 2019

O'Mahony backs 'fabulous' Stander for Lions roar

Peter O’Mahony. Photo; Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Peter O’Mahony. Photo; Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Peter O'Mahony is, in many people's eyes, an Ireland captain in waiting.

The problem right now for the Munster skipper, who led his country against Canada last year and on their two-game tour of North America in 2013, is he can't get into the team.

An abundance of quality back-rows presents a new problem for a man who was one of the first names on Joe Schmidt's team-sheet during the first two seasons of his tenure.

Injury opened the door for his rivals and when he returned to fitness after almost year out of the game, O'Mahony's route into the team was blocked by a couple of new faces.

When one of them is CJ Stander, you know you might have to bide your time.

Along with Sean O'Brien, O'Mahony missed the win over New Zealand as Schmidt went for Jordi Murphy and Josh van der Flier, but with Van der Flier now out injured himself, he has fought his way back on to the bench after missing the opening rounds of the Six Nations with a hamstring issue.

Now, his mission is to get back into the team, but with Stander displaying the kind of form that makes O'Mahony label him a Lions cert, the task is not easy.

"You would think so," he said when asked if he reckons the South African-born Munster star will make Warren Gatland's squad.

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"He's played so well for us at Munster and he's playing really well for Ireland as well. It's very hard to see how he wouldn't travel.

"CJ has grown with every game he has played. He is a fabulous athlete with a super amount of fitness, a physical, physical player and has fitted in well with both Munster and Ireland.

"He is learning all the time, he is pushing everyone on. He is leading the charge at the moment, he is adapting really well, he is great to be around, great team guy - we are very lucky to have a player of his calibre.

"They (the back-row trio of Stander, O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip) are going alright to be fair to them, playing well.

"It is great, it has always been the way with both club and country, always having competition with great guys to learn off and play alongside and train with - it has never been really different."

It presents O'Mahony with a new challenge.

"I've started a lot of the caps I've had for Munster and Ireland and I'm am enjoying it, enjoying training, getting back in - it is such a high standard, you are learning all the time," he said.

"It was bad timing for a small injury but it is good to be back and get a few minutes at the weekend and get back in training with the lads.

"I love the Six Nations, it is a great competition, I'm delighted to be back involved."

In November, O'Mahony's emotion at being back in green was captured in a brilliant photograph by Sportsfile's Brendan Moran at the full-time whistle of the win over Australia.

Having led the side against Canada, he was left out against New Zealand and the Wallabies but the late withdrawal of O'Brien handed him a place on the bench.

He came on with the game in the balance and delivered a superb performance, driving Ireland to the win.

At the end, he was overcome.

"It's a bit of everything," he said of the image.

"You are in the moment but there is a lot of stuff that has gone before it. You are in an Irish jersey against a big team at home, a quality side like Australia.

Emotion

"A turnover scrum, a lot of stuff under pressure. . . to come back from a few points down, there is a lot of emotion there so it was nice to get the win and make an impact after coming back."

Yesterday, Ireland parked their preparation for Wales for a few days after a high-intensity session at the Aviva Stadium and it remains to be seen if O'Mahony is released for Munster's game in Cardiff at the weekend.

He is keen to quell talk of the potential Championship showdown with England on March 18 and sticking with the team's one-game-at-a-time mantra for fear of adding ammunition to the Welsh cause as they look to rescue their campaign.

"If you heard that you'd be licking your lips whether it's club, country or whatever. It would be completely off our scale at the moment," he said.

"If you look at any team in the Six Nations, it's where you win your trophies, away from home.

"All the teams are that little bit more difficult at home and that goes for us as well.

"England are going well and Wales have a massive record at home as well.

"It is what makes this tournament special, those wins away from home because you fight tooth and nail for them and they're a great sense of achievement."

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