Peter O'Mahony has revealed that playing Six Nations games for Ireland was his No 1 motivation for remaining with Munster beyond the end of this season.
A combination of injury and the form of others left the Reds skipper on the outside looking in a year ago, but he is a banker to start against France in Paris on Saturday night and is relishing the prospect.
Returning from a cruciate ligament injury last season, O'Mahony found himself left out on some of the biggest days in Ireland's season but took advantage of Jamie Heaslip's pre-match injury before the England game to produce a performance that catapulted him into the Lions reckoning. He ultimately led the tourists in the first Test against New Zealand, before missing out for the subsequent clashes but returned to Munster determined to cement his place in the Irish pecking order.
He played well in November as Ireland beat South Africa and Argentina, before turning down offers from abroad to remain with his home province for the next three seasons. And the prospect of missing out on days like Saturday's meeting with France played a big part in his decision. "They've got to be the top one or two - the top one, probably, of your selection process. These are the days you want to play rugby, from someone who's growing up in Ireland," he said.
"My body feels good. There's still an incredible competition here for back-row places, younger guys playing well. There's a lot of guys playing well across the back-row, six or seven of us up here. You're always learning, you can never be complacent.
"That's always been the way with Irish back-rowers, from a long time before I started until today - there's always a massive competition. You see how the provinces are going. I must say I was looking forward to getting in and getting training alongside some of the guys that have been playing really well.
"It's always special to get selected in a squad and there's a great buzz at the start of the Six Nations and that's certainly been the same in the last 10 days or two weeks."
O'Mahony didn't play in the opening-day defeat to Scotland in last year's tournament, but believes Ireland have the capacity to learn from their slow start at Murrayfield.
"It is down to France, down to the first week of the Six Nations," he said. "It is a massive week for everyone, there is a huge buzz about it and you want to get into it, you want to start well, do all processes that we have done last week and we will do this week.
"We train as we do every week, get our detail done during the week, build ourselves. We won't do anything different, we won't say we need to do extra and play well in the first 20 minutes, we need to play for 80 minutes, we need the performance over 80 minutes to beat a team as good as France.
"We've only won there three times in the last 40 years so that alone says enough. The quality of player they have is top-class. Then the coaches' credentials are extremely good. There is a little bit of unknown because they haven't been together for a long time but we know how difficult it is to go and play in France, how passionate they are about playing at home.
"How passionate they are about playing in the Six Nations and obviously the quality of player that they have so we have to get things right."
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