Thursday 22 February 2018

Stander to shoulder the loss of O'Mahony

Munster's Peter O'Mahony leaves the pitch on Saturday with the injury that has ended his season
Munster's Peter O'Mahony leaves the pitch on Saturday with the injury that has ended his season
David Kelly

David Kelly

When someone approaches their occupation with a recklessness that Joe Schmidt vividly described as "having no respect for his body", the prospects of that body emerging unmolested by injury are utterly negligible.

Especially when that occupation is 'rugby union player, professional'.

That manic determination to selflessly lay his body, on the line contributed to Peter O'Mahony's inclusion in most observers' Six Nations XV selections; the irony is that this same iron will now preclude him from the rest of Munster's twin title charge.

A statement from Munster confirmed that O'Mahony is due to undergo reconstructive shoulder surgery this morning and is ruled out for the remainder of the season.

The depressing irony for Munster supporters, already seething at their under-representation on the national team, is that it seems that the unfortunate injury sustained by O'Mahony derived from his extraordinary efforts in green.

The further irony is that the player was already struggling to shake off the effects of a debilitating hamstring injury, first identified in the aftermath of defeat to England when Schmidt reported "there was a little blood, but no tear".

The injury was sufficiently noteworthy to rule him out of the penultimate game of the championship against Italy, before he returned against France in Paris when Ireland secured the championship.

However, as Munster coach Rob Penney confirmed after O'Mahony's eleventh-hour withdrawal for last Saturday's derby against Leinster, the hamstring injury was compounded by nerve issues.

O'Mahony was nevertheless sufficiently resourceful to recover in time to take the field for last Saturday's Heineken Cup destruction of Toulouse, in the course of which he over-extended his shoulder thieving an early line-out. It was in the aftermath of this latest issue that Penney also confirmed that O'Mahony had also had "some shoulder issues through the Six Nations"; some of which had emerged publicly during the campaign.

Now Munster must cope with the unfortunate fall-out from seeing one of their star players deliver so much to the national cause. It is cruel luck for both player and province.

But, as Paul O'Connell observed when he reminded us of erstwhile coach Declan Kidney's old maxim: one man's misfortune is another man's opportunity.

The chief beneficiary of O'Mahony's period in the sidelines will indubitably be Irish project player CJ Stander, whose transformation from bit-part performer to key frontline totem will be confirmed between now and the end of May as Munster target two final opportunities in league and Cup.


Judging on the South African's initial individual response to the collective setback endured by his team, so vividly illustrated by a man-of-the-match award secured in less than an hour against Toulouse, he seems adequately prepared to step up to the plate.

However, he alone cannot carry the fight to the indomitable Toulon back-row, one spearheaded by Steffon Armitage and his unlikely speed of foot and unique, if borderline illegal, breakdown technique.

The return of Donnacha Ryan will be a significant boost if Penney chooses to house him in the back-row, if only from the bench, especially in terms of clearing out rogue operators like Armitage.

But Munster will need to accommodate someone who can consistently replicate O'Mahony's stunning success in securing breakdown turnovers.

Here, the responsibility will fall mainly upon the shoulders of Tommy O'Donnell, who is beginning to show signs of returning to the type of form he had shown before being struck down by injury before Christmas.

Sean Dougall is also another asset in the back-row who has demonstrated equal proficiency in this area and he can be expected to see some action before the trip to Marseille, beginning with the visit of Glasgow this weekend.

Paddy Butler, who has added physicality this season to his undoubted ball-playing skills, is another who will eye an opening in terms of squeezing on to the bench for the Heineken Cup semi-final, albeit as a No 8 back-up to James Coughlan.

O'Mahony's leadership, too, will be difficult to replace, even with O'Connell and Conor Murray in the side.

Munster were visibly rattled when O'Mahony departed the fray on Saturday and it was no coincidence that they were at their most passive, at least when the game was still competitive, for the 10 minutes immediately after his departure. However, the squad will be prepared for his absence and few will demur at O'Connell re-asserting himself as the official leader of the pack.

All eyes will be on Stander though. He has proved himself, belatedly, capable of making a real impact from the bench.

This month will reveal whether he can impose himself to the same extent when burdened with the twin responsibilities of both starting a match and replacing a Munster icon.

Irish Independent

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