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Grand Slam momentum with O'Mahony as Munster captain returns

The 28-year-old says it hasn’t been difficult to focus back in on provincial matters.

THIS TIME LAST week, Peter O’Mahony was basking in the joy of a Grand Slam success with Ireland.

While that very recent glory will give the Cork man a sense of momentum ahead of a crucial weekend for Munster, his return to provincial duty on Monday was far from being about easing himself back in.

In a way, it seems far too short a time for a player to actually enjoy such an achievement, but the visit of French powerhouses Toulon to Thomond Park in the Champions Cup quarter-final on Saturday means O’Mahony can’t dwell on the Slam.

Peter O'Mahony with the Six Nations trophy O'Mahony is fresh off a Grand Slam success. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“You know you’ve got the biggest week in the club’s year so far coming up, so it focuses the mind,” says the Munster captain.

“Obviously, Toulon coming here in the quarter-final of Europe, it doesn’t get any bigger than that. If you needed a way to focus the mind, you watch their performance over the weekend against Clermont [a 49-0 win for Toulon].

“I know Clermont will be disappointed with some of the aspects of their play but it was a very impressive, relentless performance from Toulon, so, not that you needed to focus, but that would certainly do it for you.”

While Munster are being spoken about as underdogs this week given their admittedly difficult injury problems, O’Mahony and his players must see Saturday’s home quarter-final as an opportunity.

The 28-year-old has been Munster captain since 2013 and has yet to lift a trophy in that time, with Champions Cup knock-out failings remaining tough memories – including last season’s semi-final defeat to Saracens.

Toulon have undoubted quality, but O’Mahony underlines that Munster are determined to avoid adding to their list of regrets.

“Unfortunately, the bad memories are always the ones that stick out, and you always have a little bit of fear driving you on,” says the back row.

“Not that you’ll sit down and think about it, but you’ll get a flashback and they’re not feelings you want to have again. Certainly, they affect you as you go on through your career, the ones that you’ve left behind you and the ones that you’ve been beaten up in as well.

“That’s part of being an elderly fella who has played a few times in the knock-out stages and been beaten. You don’t want to be back there again.”

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Peter O'Mahony The Munster captain has tasted too much knock-out disappointment. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Though Munster have been shorn of a handful of key players, O’Mahony insists he is “not going to sit here and moan about it” and points out that players who have been desperate for opportunities like this one now have chances to shine.

The losses of Chris Cloete and Tommy O’Donnell may mean a reshuffle in the Munster back row and O’Mahony feels he “would be well able” to play in the seven shirt if head coach Johann van Graan opts to move him across to openside.

Whatever the composition of the back row, Munster will have their hands full against a Toulon side packed with individual quality.

“It is probably hard to pick a weakness in them,” says O’Mahony. “The performance at the weekend, it was quite relentless. Their pack have the ability to beat teams up and their backs have probably even more of an ability to beat teams up.

“Guys like Josua Tuisova, Malakai Fekitoa and Mathieu Bastareaud – you are naming household names across the board. The go-forward ball that Bastareaud gives them makes them difficult to stop. It is about momentum.

“They have a lot of momentum-givers so they are some of the guys we are going to have to stop at the weekend.”

Thomond Park is so often a factor, but O’Mahony feels Munster have to give the Limerick crowd a reason to roar on Saturday.

“We have got to bring a huge physicality,” says the Ireland international. “A big part of Toulon and a lot of these French teams is that they beat you up. It is hard to stop. We played Racing over there [in Paris].

Peter O'Mahony The Munster captain returned to training on Monday. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“Two tries, 14 points later, and we kind of felt ‘what hit us?’ I mean it was relentless stuff and it is difficult to stop. So if I was going to pick one thing, it would be to stop their momentum.

“That is certainly easier said than done. You try and stop them at source by going after their set-piece. It is not like I am giving away big parts of what we have to do. We go after set-piece, their momentum-givers, breakdown we have to be immaculate and our discipline has to be incredible.

“We are going to be under the pump at times and we have got to be squeaky clean when it comes to this because they will chip away at us as well. “

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Murray Kinsella

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