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Analysis: Peter O'Mahony's World Cup ends with the game of his life

The Munster captain was superb for Ireland before a cruel injury.

IT’S ALWAYS INTERESTING attempting to lip read coaches when the camera flashes onto them during games.

Peter O'Mahony O'Mahony rises high to claim a restart. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

As Peter O’Mahony was stretchered off in Cardiff yesterday, the message for the Munster back row from Joe Schmidt via his communication system to the likes of Mick Kearney down on the touchline appeared to be clear.

“Tell him he had the game of his life.”

Maybe we see what we want to see, but if that is indeed what Schmidt said then it was entirely apt after a superb performance from his blindside flanker. O’Mahony’s World Cup is over after suffering a knee ligament injury in the 54th minute yesterday, but he went out on a high.

A week after excelling against Italy, the Munster captain was exceptional in the victory over the French. Ireland will move on quickly with the arrival of Rhys Ruddock, but O’Mahony has played a major role in their World Cup success to date. He will be missed.

We’d seen O’Mahony’s handling skills cleverly utilised by Ireland in the heavy wins over Canada and Romania – the back row actually passed more than he carried in the former fixture – but yesterday’s game wasn’t really about that ability.

Of more importance to Ireland was delivering the kind of aggressive, ferocious, violent performance that could negate France’s physical power. Ireland needed to be at the perfect pitch mentally and that proved to be the case, with O’Mahony leading the way.

POM Turnover 1 Source: World Rugby

O’Mahony loves this type of game in these circumstances, and his appetite for spoiling any bit of possession France had was insatiable.

As early as the first minute he was helping to make turnovers, as we see above. Johnny Sexton and Jamie Heaslip make a firm hit on Guilhem Guirado, Rory Best gets in to compete and slow, before O’Mahony swoops in on Sébastien Tillous-Borde.

The timing from O’Mahony is perfect as he forces the error from the France scrum-half and then flings him like a rag doll after the ball goes loose. A clear physical marker inside the first minute of the game.

Just over two minutes later, O’Mahony was at it again, the destroyer in chief of a French maul.

Compete ... Source: World Rugby

As so often with Ireland, O’Mahony is the defensive jumper at the lineout initially. His superb spring off the ground – his counter-movement jump scores are the best in Ireland’s squad – and timing make him a constant threat to opposition ball.

In this instance, he narrowly misses a steal in the air, but the focus immediately turns to defending the maul when he comes back to deck. France appear to be in good shape as they set off with the maul, but some good work from Cian Healy and Devin Toner forces them to splinter off to the left.

Seam Source: World Rugby

It’s still relatively well sealed off at the front of the French maul, but O’Mahony’s determination ensures he finds a seam to break through.

With excellent low body position and huge fight, he forces his way in between Damien Chouly and Louis Picamoles to cause a big fracture and then get his right hand onto ball carrier Eddy Ben Arous.

and Conquer Source: World Rugby

O’Mahony is now in a really threatening position, thanks to the good work of his teammates and his own efforts, but the deal is not yet sealed.

The flanker needs a couple of other contributions from his fellow forwards to guarantee the turnover. As we see below, Rory Best floods in on O’Mahony’s right to remove Thierry Dusautoir from the equation.

Turnover Source: World Rugby

On the other side of O’Mahony it’s Toner, who has worked hard to get to the tail of the maul and fight his way through. The sheer arm span he possesses then allows the lock to clamp all the way over Picamoles and onto Arous.

With O’Mahony’s right arm underneath the ball as the Irish pair bring it to deck, there’s no hope of France retaining possession.

Less than three minutes played and already two huge turnover contributions from a ferocious O’Mahony. It’s momentum-sapping stuff for the French too and while it may not be the most glamorous work, it’s hugely important from O’Mahony.

Fast forward to the second half, with Ireland 9-6 in the lead but desperate for the score that can put them into a dominant position. France attempt to run the ball out of their defensive third and Ireland strike with a counter ruck wide on their left.

Force KO for Try 1 Source: World Rugby

It’s Jamie Heaslip who identifies the possible chink in the French ruck, testing Noa Nakaitaci’s strength with a strong right shoulder and driving up into Chouly, who concedes far too easily.

O’Mahony doesn’t ever need to be asked twice and powers in behind Heaslip to force the mistake from Tillous-Borde once again, a recurring theme of this performance from Ireland.

From the turnover, Ireland attempt to go wide but come back for the scrum advantage. From there, Robbie Henshaw destroys Mathieu Bastareaud with his footwork, starting the passage of pressure that ends with Rob Kearney’s try.

With Ireland enjoying almost 70% of the possession yesterday, there weren’t a huge number of tackles for O’Mahony to make. He did get penalised for an instinctive high tackle on Guirado that allowed Scott Spedding to kick three long-range points, but aside from that moment he was strong in the tackle.

Phase Two Carry Source: World Rugby

O’Mahony was highly present as a ball carrier for Ireland with 11 runs in total, although most of them were in tight channels and with multiple defenders around him.

It was interesting to see O’Mahony used for a couple of clever inside pass plays on set-piece attack. In the example above, Ireland are on the second phase of a scrum attack in the French half.

O’Mahony holds his line on the inside of Ian Madigan, timing his run expertly to make up some good yardage. It’s an intelligent pre-planned attack from Ireland as they look to exploit France’s tendency to switch off around the pillar positions once the ball is moved.

Heaslip Source: World Rugby

Note the movement of Heaslip just in front of the ruck, as he deliberately looks to back into Pascal Papé, who is folding across from the other side. The aim to further open the hole for O’Mahony, but Picamoles makes a good read to recover and halt the flanker.

Later in the game, Ireland ran the same play, using O’Mahony as that inside runner.

This was actually the incident in which the Cork man’s right knee gave way, just as he stepped hard off his right foot.

2nd Phase Scrum Source: World Rugby

This time it’s Henshaw who acts as the first receiver, with Madigan having carried on first phase.

Again, watch Heaslip’s actions just beyond the ruck, looking to clear away any debris he can before O’Mahony arrives onto the ball.

Block Source: World Rugby

Once again, Papé makes it past Heaslip and it’s the French lock who makes the tackle this time, O’Mahony’s knee already having been injured as he looks to use his footwork just before the tackle.

The 26-year-old showed off that excellent footwork a little earlier in the game to expose tighthead prop Rabah Slimani.

Footwork Source: World Rugby

O’Mahony is not the most bruising of ball carriers, but his footwork and dynamic power is perhaps a little underrated. He’s at his best when not running in the heavily-occupied tight channels, but that’s often his role and he regularly makes up good metres in there.

When used on strike plays like the one we saw above, O’Mahony’s intelligence and understanding of the game mean he invariably arrives in position at exactly the time he’s supposed to.

Possibly the greatest strength of O’Mahony’s game, however, is his lineout work.

Very much in the mould of a France back row lineout forward like Jean Boulihou or Julien Bonnaire, O’Mahony is a defensive specialist, repeatedly using his explosive leap and reading of the set-piece to get off the ground and spoil.

O’Mahony had three clean steals of opposition throws at this World Cup, but it’s hard to put a value on how much of a nuisance he is even when there’s no direct change of possession.

Lineout Earls Chance Source: World Rugby

In attack too, O’Mahony has been a crucial figure.

He moves well on the ground and is generally very decisive in leaping once he gets into position. The example above sees him providing the possession that allowed Ireland to nearly score through Keith Earls in the first half.

O’Mahony’s handling skills are particularly useful in this area of the game, allowing him to catch even the most difficult throws and also to pop deftly off the top.

Lineout Agility Source: World Rugby

We see above how he redeems a potentially tricky situation, re-adjusting in midair to ensure the ball can be smoothly transferred to the back of the maul, in turn allowing Ireland to exit with a Conor Murray box kick.

It’s at the lineout that O’Mahony’s absence might be most felt next weekend against Argentina, and whoever is to replace him at blindside will need to be excellent in this department to get anywhere near matching his standard.

Peter OÕMahony O'Mahony has many years of Tests ahead. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The 26-year-old will obviously be distraught to be ruled out of the rest of this competition, but he can rest and recuperate in the knowledge that he played an essential role in ensuring Ireland set up the quarter-final they had been targeting.

O’Mahony will be back in the future, ready to bring more fight, intelligence, skill and set-piece mastery.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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