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'A world-class performance from a world-class player': O'Mahony at the heart of Munster's rise

He’s worth every last cent.

O'Mahony, named man of the match, stole three Leicester lineouts.
O'Mahony, named man of the match, stole three Leicester lineouts.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Ryan Bailey reports from Welford Road

IT’S BEEN A while since The Fields has been sung with such gusto and undiluted delight. The reds are on the rise again, and their legions of travelling support let it be known well into the night.

To put this performance of considerable rank into context, you only have to look at Leicester’s home record at their Welford Road citadel, and the fact this was just their third European defeat here in the last 37 games.

In the most intense and feverish of atmospheres, Munster kept their cool and maintained their composure when it would have easy to do the opposite during a fiercely-contested and compelling Champions Cup arm-wrestle.

Leicester were horribly indisciplined, and through those indiscretions and, on occasion, borderline thuggish tactics  — Manu Tuilagi’s no-arms hit on Chris Cloete, and Graham Kitchener’s late hit on Conor Murray stick in the mind — they tried to rattle Munster and lay down a marker; we were humiliated last week, but this is our patch.

Munster are bigger and better than that, and led by the likes of Ian Keatley, CJ Stander and their ever-reliant and brilliant captain Peter O’Mahony, were able to weather the initial storm and keep the Tigers at bay during a frenetic contest.

O’Mahony, in particular, was immense. When is he ever not?

Fresh from committing his future to Munster and Irish rugby, O’Mahony delivered an outstanding, lead-from-the-front performance as the visitors maintained clarity and conviction in what they were doing despite Leicester throwing everything, quite literally, at them.

A complete contrast to his opposite number Tom Youngs, who, like his team, was too pumped up for his own good. Dan Cole may have given away five of the 14 penalties Leicester conceded, but Youngs’ wayward throwing led to the complete malfunction of the hosts’ lineout.

And no better man than O’Mahony to make hay, the Munster skipper soaring not once, twice, but three times to poach possession with his second steal leading directly to Stander’s try.

Peter O'Mahony celebrates after the game 17/12/2017 Source: Inpho

A talismanic display, but you’d expect nothing less.

“I thought it was a world-class performance by a world-class player,” his head coach, Johann van Graan, said afterwards.

“The announcement of him staying, it’s massive for Munster but he never made it about himself. It was all about the team and about the performance. So well done to Pete for a magnificent performance.”

Stander, too, produced a big performance; 19 big carries, 34 metres gained, one try and nine tackles is just a snapshot into the number eight’s tireless shift. And each of Munster’s big players stood up and delivered, but so too did the likes of Sam Arnold, Kevin O’Byrne and Alex Wootton. Conor Murray was as classy as ever.

But no player embodied and personified Munster’s calmness and confidence than Keatley, who was again excellent in the pivot through his near-faultless placekicking display — seven from eight — and an array of passing and kicking from open play. The out-half is a joy to watch.

As Keatley sent his final penalty between the posts to extend Munster’s lead to nine points, he picked up the tee, threw it back to Aled Walters and punched the air. Job done.

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

‘It’s been an incredible four weeks for me but it’s not about me. I’m a guy that’s not ego-driven’

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Ryan Bailey

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