Tuesday 20 February 2018

'You don’t see Peter O'Mahony growling at people at dinner' - Graham Rowntree

Born leader O'Mahony backed to thrive by Rowntree

Lions scrum coach Graham Rowntree says that Peter O’Mahony has the ‘Paul O’Connell DNA’ to captain the Test team. Photo: Getty
Lions scrum coach Graham Rowntree says that Peter O’Mahony has the ‘Paul O’Connell DNA’ to captain the Test team. Photo: Getty
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Peter O'Mahony was born to lead rugby teams. From an early age, coaches identified his capacity to captain sides, and at every level of the game he has been chosen for the role.

Yet the idea of the Munster skipper leading the Lions into action on Saturday seemed beyond remote only a couple of months ago when he couldn't get into the Ireland back-row during the Six Nations.

Only the serious back injury suffered by Jamie Heaslip in the build-up to the England game afforded him access to the team, and he hasn't looked back once.

That final Six Nations game was a reminder of the unique figure Ireland have at their disposal in O'Mahony. Others may do more spectacular things, but the 27-year-old is a war-time consigliere, a man you want beside you when the heat is turned up.

Injury has limited his trajectory in recent years, but when Joe Schmidt opts to make a transition from 34-year-old Rory Best with the World Cup in mind, O'Mahony is the only candidate for the job.


Jonathan Sexton. Photo: Sportsfile
Jonathan Sexton. Photo: Sportsfile

He commands respect, speaks with authority and does not suffer fools. Behind his at times gruff exterior is a funny, respectful character who morphs into a figure of huge intensity, work-rate and no little skill when he crosses the white lines.

The Lions is catapulting him to a new audience but he has remained the same O'Mahony throughout.

"He's a good fella," scrum coach Graham Rowntree said yesterday. "He's able to relax. I can't speak highly enough of the fella. He's been great whatever role he performs going forward. He'll be great for the group. The lads respect his actions and want to follow him.

"This is as intense a gig as I have ever done. We seem to have been in a hundred hotels in the last week. You need to switch off. You need guys who can flick in and out of intensity. He has got that.

"Off the field you don't see him growling at people in the dining room."

While his off-pitch demeanour is important, it's O'Mahony's on-field combination of stubborn belligerence, brilliant lineout work and relentless drive that have edged him in front of CJ Stander and Warburton in the battle for back-row places.

The field is competitive, but Gatland has long identified the need for a blindside with lineout qualities against what Rowntree described as the best set-piece team in the world.

Against England he was a thorn Dylan Hartley's side in the game many believe earned him his spot on tour, but Harlequins coach Rowntree says he was always pencilled in to go on tour.

"He was one player who would have been earmarked from an early stage for a Lions tour," he said.

"He's exactly the character you need: a guy who would get on with things if he wasn't involved in the Test squad. He would pull along the rest of that group and we need that on Lions tours. His form at the end of the Six Nations and for Munster - and he's led Munster well after the Six Nations - that's got him on the tour."

On the tour, O'Mahony has thrived; playing a leading role in the wins over the Crusaders and the Maori All Blacks, contributing in every facet of the game.

"He's got the respect of the group, that's for sure," Rowntree said. "(He) gets on with things, it's that Munster kind of aggression around everything we do in training, determination, almost 'follow me, lads'.

"He has that Paul O'Connell kind of DNA in him. He's very diligent, not afraid in training of saying, 'Lads, this isn't good enough.' He's pulling along the standards, along with the coaches.

"Look at his game last Saturday: involvements high and effective, aggressive. He dealt with the referee well as well, respectfully speaking to the referee without being in his ear too much.

"I've enjoyed working with him. I've coached against him for a long time and he's always a bloody handful when you're playing against Ireland."

O'Mahony leads a formidable pack into world rugby's most impenetrable fortress, Eden Park.

The Lions hope to take the All Blacks up front, denying their super-talented backs the time and space to thrive and then enveloping them with their defensive line-speed.

Alun-Wyn Jones' selection ahaad of Maro Itoje adds experience over impact, but Gatland will hope the likes of Tadhg Furlong, Sean O'Brien and Taulupe Faletau will bring a physical edge.


Johnny Sexton loses out to Owen Farrell, who partners Conor Murray with Ben Te'o joining Jon Davies in the centre. The dual-code international's clashes with Sonny Bill Williams will be seismic.

Out wide, the Lions have their issues and the late about turn to include Liam Williams and Elliot Daly demonstrates the lack of form players putting their hands up. Anthony Watson has been the best of a disappointing bunch.

The coaches informed the players of their decisions in a team meeting yesterday and Rowntree says they will not go overboard in ramping things up before kick-off.

"We have got to get it right from the get-go, we have got to win that first Test," he said.

"We have got the best players here from the British Isles. You have got to be careful what you say to them, you don't have to be stood in front of them all the time, telling them what to do or how to feel, they are pretty much there.

"Warren is very good at being succinct, saying a few words. He was really good last night, really passionate.

"I am sure on Saturday there will be another passionate speech, but it won't be long. These guys will be chomping at the bit on the weekend."

Irish Independent

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