Friday 22 March 2019

'I got a shiver down my spine' - Ireland captain Peter O'Mahony admits memories of Italy defeat still linger

Ireland captain Peter O'Mahony still haunted by 2013 loss to Italy in Rome

Peter O'Mahony. Photo: Sportsfile
Peter O'Mahony. Photo: Sportsfile

Rúaidhri O'Connor at the Stadio Olimpico

Six years have passed since Ireland's only Six Nations defeat to Italy, but Peter O'Mahony is still haunted by the memory as he returns to Rome.

The Munster skipper, who led the Lions in the first Test in New Zealand in 2017, captains his country for the seventh time at the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday and for the first time in this tournament.

Although he won't change much about his preparation, the Corkman admitted it will be a special day in the Italian capital as he stands in for the rested Rory Best against Conor O'Shea's side.

Yet his experience of losing Declan Kidney's final match will stop him from getting ahead of himself.

O'Mahony ended up on the wing in an injury-ravaged 22-15 defeat and although he exorcised those demons two years later, the return to the stadium brought the chills back.

"It does remind you," he said of being back in the Stadio Olimpico for this afternoon's Captain's Run.

"Coming down the tunnel there – there's hoarding inside where they do the media and I remember doing media that day and I got a shiver down my spine.

"You just don't like losing, it doesn't matter whether it's in Rome or at home. There's big days out there when you win things, but it's funny, the days you lose are the days that stand out at times.

"It shouldn't be the way, but that's how it is. We'll be looking for a big performance tomorrow.

"We understand how difficult it is every time you come to Rome, we know the physicality required."

O'Mahony admitted that, while he is always honoured to wear the green jersey, this one is extra special.

"I've been lucky enough to captain the team a couple of times before when the other lads were out, but to get a chance to captain the team in the Six Nations, it's an incredible competition, one of the best in the world," he said.

"It's not about personal milestones, but it's certainly special for me to be asked to lead the lads out tomorrow. It doesn't change my week or what I do to be honest.

"It's nice to be asked. There's an incredible amount of history gone with Irish captains.

"And it's a huge honour to play in itself, but being captain is just extra special. I won't say anything differently, but it's a nice honour.

"It's hard not to single out lots of guys (who have gone before).

"Obviously, Rory has been left at home, Paulie (O'Connell), Drico (Brian O'Driscoll).. I could name a list of guys who I've looked up to for a long time and it's a huge honour to be asked to do the job tomorrow.

"It's a little bit of a different animal nowadays. It doesn't change my week, teams would have been very dependent on a certain amount of guys.

"We've build a huge leadership group now and we're dependent on lots of guys, not just one or two guys.

"We depending on large chunks of the squad to lead and that's something we've build over the last two or three years."

Connacht's Jack Carty. Photo: Sportsfile

Connacht's Jack Carty (above) is in line for a debut off the bench tomorrow and O'Mahony has backed him to step up to the level if required.

"It's great to have new guys coming in all the time," he said.

"Jack's been playing incredibly well for Connacht and it's important guys are ready to go because you see guys taking knocks, you need big strength in depth in squads.

"He's been playing incredibly well in Connacht, playing against him and it's a privilege training with him now in Irish camp, you know his standards are incredibly high.

"His organisational skills are superb and he's been great since he came at the start of this campaign, it's great to see guys getting in a getting a shot."

Ireland's title ambitions rest on Wales' ability to take England's scalp in Cardiff, but O'Mahony's focus is on improving Ireland's game and in particular, there is a focus on improving the team's attack.

"Tomorrow we'll be certainly looking to improve from the last couple of games we've been out and be a bit more cohesive, certainly the combinations that we've picked," he said.

"We want to flow, we certainly want to play rugby and as I said a little bit more cohesion and a bit more patient at times.

"There's always stuff to work on and we've certainly worked hard on our attack over the last couple of weeks an we hope it's going to come to fruition tomorrow."

And he said the team won't go chasing a bonus point.

"It's not something that I think anyone on the team can afford to think about for any game in the Six Nations, it's an incredibly competitive competition," he said.

"If you go looking down the line you'll go wrong somewhere, 100 per cent. Teams are too good and the competition is too competitive.

"Tomorrow it's going to start from the first minute and it's going to be about going to the very last one. So it's all about preparing for that.

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