Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
THE MERE SUGGESTION that his standing in Joe Schmidt’s back row is now secure makes Peter O’Mahony squirm uneasily in his chair. Complacency goes against every fibre in his body.
“No one has walked into an Irish jersey but guys have walked out of it the way they perform in training,” the Munster captain says, instantly refuting any notion the number six jersey had his name on it from early in the week.
“The day someone wanders in thinking they’re going to start, and are laissez-faire in the way they carry on around here is the day they’ll be shown the door.”
There is no room, or time, for resting on your laurels in O’Mahony’s world.
The ‘incredible’ experience of captaining the Lions in New Zealand, he admits, naturally engenders an added layer of confidence but that’s in the rearview mirror now. This is a new season, there are new goals.
“You learn a huge amount from all aspects of rugby and outside of it,” he reflects.
“As part of rugby and being a professional player, you take those learnings and experiences you get from the Lions tour or a Six Nations or a big match like South Africa and you take that into your armour and you build and move on. This is the next step now, this is the next camp for international players.
“That’s the focus every time anyone comes into any camp, to get your hands on the jersey. It’s very focused, you’ve got to be on the ball.”
On Saturday, O’Mahony will win his 41st international cap in an all-Lions back row including Sean O’Brien and CJ Stander. 34 of his appearances in green have come as a starter, and his last, against England in the Six Nations, was one of his finest performances for Ireland.
Drafted in late following the withdrawal of Jamie Heaslip, O’Mahony led the physical onslaught against the visitors to deny Eddie Jones’ side a second consecutive Grand Slam title. It’s probably fair to say he played his way onto the plane for New Zealand with such a powerful and influential shift in the engine room.
The reset button is hit every time he steps through the doors into Carton House, however.
“You’ve got to understand, there’s some young guys and new guys coming in but I think the carrot is there that you could get an international jersey in two weeks. You come into camp and in two weeks time there is an international match against South Africa and there is a jersey there up for grabs. Guys want to play. That’s why guys want to play the game at the highest level.
Source: Dan Sheridan
“You come in and you compete because you want to go in the one direction, you want Ireland to win every time you go out and take the field. You want Ireland to win so you do your very best and do everything you can to make that happen, and make the team win.
“Hopefully, along the way, you get a jersey there and hopefully you perform in front of 55,000 people at the weekend. That’s why we come into camp and we all get stuck into our detail and our gym work and our training. It’s because we want to play on a Saturday.”
For O’Mahony, that hunger has never been as intense.
He was always in pole position to start at the Aviva Stadium and certainly injuries to Jack Conan, Tommy O’Donnell and Dan Leavy made the back row selection picture a lot clearer for Schmidt.
O’Mahony’s tireless work-rate and lineout expertise — there are few players in the game better at stealing opposition ball — will likely be the cornerstone of any potential Irish victory against a side as physical as the Springboks.
“It’s always a big, physical encounter against South Africa,” the 28-year-old adds.
“We’ve been here before. To be able to bring that physicality, you’ve got to have your homework done and we’ve tried to get that done over the last 10 days, two weeks, while we’ve been in camp.
“We’ve had a good time, there are a lot of new faces and we’ve all gelled in well together. It’s going to take a big, physical performance but the guys have prepared and are starting to look forward to it now.”
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