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'If you are too emotional, you'll miss a beat and against these guys it's seven points'

Peter O’Mahony is awaiting his first win over the All Blacks, but a personal agenda is not driving the Munster captain this week.

ASK PETER O’MAHONY about his memories of facing New Zealand, and you’re likely to get a mixed response. He still awaits a victory over the All Blacks, having been on the losing side in his five appearances against them.

And then there was that day in Auckland two summers ago, when the prestigious honour of captaining the Lions was bestowed upon the Munster and Ireland flanker in the first Test of that series. It was one of those career-defining moments, only for it to end in defeat and bitter disappointment. 

Peter O'Mahony Peter O'Mahony is ready for the All Blacks. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

He was replaced in the 53rd minute by Sam Warburton and fell completely out of the picture for the second and third Tests, as Warren Gatland’s side left with a hugely credible series draw. For O’Mahony, it was a difficult pill to swallow.

In green, the 29-year-old featured in all three Tests against the All Blacks during Ireland’s tour in 2012, as Declan Kidney’s side were taught a harsh lesson in a series whitewash, compounded by that 60-0 defeat in Hamilton.

And then, not to mention, that heartbreaking defeat at the Aviva Stadium a year later, when Ryan Crotty’s last-gasp try plundered victory for Steve Hansen’s side after an epic, white-knuckle ride of a Test match.

Cruelly, O’Mahony was then forced to watch Joe Schmidt’s side break the 111-year hoodoo in spectacular fashion in Chicago as he entered the final stages of his comeback from a serious knee injury, before making his international return after a 13-month break a week later against Canada.

A win this weekend would, you feel, mean more to O’Mahony than anyone else in green.

“Not really,” he insists. “It comes down to the team at the weekend. It’s not for me to have an agenda or anyone to have an agenda. It’s for anyone who is picked to play as well as they can for Ireland. We have a very proud record at home.”

Saturday’s win over Argentina extended Ireland’s unbeaten record at the Aviva Stadium to a record 10 games, with O’Mahony producing a typically tireless, wholehearted, performance in the trenches.

The Cork native could have easily been named man of the match, which instead went to the outstanding James Ryan, as he conjured up several key moments throughout his relentless 80-minute display, including a crucial lineout steal in the build-up to Luke McGrath’s second-half try.

Not long in off the training paddock to speak to the media at Carton House, O’Mahony described the Tuesday morning session as intense, although the same could be said about any under Schmidt’s watch.

Having lost key players, and indeed leaders, in Seán O’Brien and Robbie Henshaw already this week, the return of Rob Kearney and Garry Ringrose is a welcome boost, while Devin Toner — given his aerial dominance and set-piece prowess — is expected to come back into the second row.

One of the areas where Ireland will need to make a significant improvement in is at the lineout, having suffered several malfunctions against the Pumas until Toner was introduced in the second half.

Peter O'Mahony, Devin Toner, CJ Stander, James Ryan and Dan Leavy O'Mahony and the forwards will hope for a big game on Saturday. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Given Ireland rely heavily on their set-piece dominance, Toner is a pivotal figure.

“He’s a very important part of our squad,” O’Mahony agrees. “Himself, Hendy [Iain Henderson], Jamsie [James Ryan], they work incredibly hard in the lineout. They are three incredible lineout operators.

“You’ve seen what they are capable of over the last couple of years. Guys like Quinn [Roux] and beyond will be hugely important for us over the next two weeks. Obviously, this week, with the way the lineout went last week, it’s certainly an area of repair for us.

“Our percentages weren’t where we wanted them to be and that’s the scenarios we’re certainly going to have to look after.”

As it was in Chicago, the performance of Ireland’s front five, and their ability to gain a foothold up front will be a match-defining area on Saturday evening, and no doubt central to Schmidt’s game plan.

“I think tight fives set the tone for every international game,” O’Mahony continues.

They are an integral part of the set-piece, which goes a long way to the winning and losing of a Test match. Our front five set the tone for us every week and it will be no different this week.

“It’s an area [the lineout] that we always focus hard on in the opposition. You see the stats they have, the tries New Zealand score off their lineout. It’s by far the highest area that they’ve scored tries from so it’s an area we’ll focus on.

“It’s a difficult area because their lineout is very tidy. The options they have in [Sam] Whitelock, [Kieran] Read, [Brodie] Retallick, [Liam] Squire and Ardie Savea, they are all very capable lineout operators. That’s an area we concentrate hard on every week we play.

“The Argentina defence was very strong, very impressive and they had a couple of very good steals from our lineout but it’s an area you battle with every week because defences are getting so good, it won’t be any different this week.”

Treat it like any other week, but the reality — as Johnny Sexton admitted on Monday — is that it’s not any other week. Already being anticipated as the Test match of the year, this showdown pits the top two teams in the world rankings against each other, a clash of the Six Nations champions and Rugby Championship winners.

Although New Zealand’s win at Twickenham means Ireland can no longer usurp their opponents at the top of the rankings this time around, the stakes couldn’t be any higher as the home side chase a famous first victory over the world champions in Dublin.

Peter O'Mahony The Munster captain speaking to the media. Source: Patrick McCormack/INPHO

But O’Mahony insists the players must remove the emotion from the occasion if they are to repeat their Soldier Field exploits.

“Every game we look to build on and move on to the next one,” he says. “It’s something that we’ve done well over the last couple of years: build on our performances, build on the experiences we have from losses and wins.

“We’ve learned a lot from them and hopefully the end product this Saturday will be an experienced side that’s won big games, lost big games but it’s a different animal every time you take the pitch.

“With New Zealand being number one in the world, it’s the biggest one and the one you want to be involved in. But weeks like this, you’ve to take the emotion out of it. With their accuracy and their ability to play very good rugby, you’ve got to be cool-headed and take yourself out of that emotion.

If you are too emotional you’ll miss a beat and if you miss a beat against these guys it’s seven points.

He adds: “If you are on for nine-and-a-half minutes out of 10 minutes and you miss 30 seconds you can be fairly sure you are going to be under the sticks. It’s about taking away that emotion and getting your detail and training done and then building towards the back end of the week.

“You have to be smart about it and you have to be particularly smart when you are playing against the best team in the world. We’ll certainly be detaching ourselves from that emotional side.”

You can be sure O’Mahony will be driving that message this week, but there’s no fear Schmidt’s Ireland will lose focus of the task in hand and their own individual jobs within the game plan. They’ve become clinical in their nature under the Kiwi’s tenure.

“The younger guys are driving it as much as the older guys,” the 51-time capped back row explains.

“You look at the younger guys and they’ve won Grand Slams, they’ve won European Cups, domestic leagues. They bring a huge amount of experience and that adds excitement to some of the older guys in the group.

“Certainly for me, you have a fear of losing and a fear of losing at home and that’s certainly a factor but not the factor that’s driving us on all week. It won’t be a factor in our performance at the weekend but it’s always there in the back of your head.” 

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Ryan Bailey

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