Billy Stickland/INPHO
hard and fair
'That would be unjust to the jersey': No need for red redemption from O'Mahony
The Munster back row is set to return after serving his suspension for a red card against Wales.

PETER O’MAHONY WINCES as the last question comes in across the video conference call.

Do you feel you owe the team a performance?

He unscrews the lid from a bottle, patiently takes a sip and methodically replaces the cap again, gathering his thoughts before giving a response.

Although Ireland’s faults have ranged far beyond O’Mahony’s error as he entered an early ruck in Cardiff, it is easy to look back on his red card against Wales as something akin to a Sliding Doors moment in the Championship.

Wayne Pivac’s men are chasing a Grand Slam now, but at that point they were under the pump against a well-functioning Ireland team who came close to winning despite being down a man for an hour on opening weekend.

“Look,” says O’Mahony when the energy drink is safely back on the table along with the issue of his sending off, “when it comes to the breakdown and it comes to international rugby, you have to be incredibly urgent, you’ve got to be incredibly accurate and you’ve got to bring physicality.

“These incidents happen. It’s a very physical game.  You know, I’ve always played hard, I’ve always played fairly in my opinion.”

“I 100% was in the wrong with what happened and the incident, but I think my team-mates know better than anyone that I was acting with the best intent with the best intentions for the team and unfortunately that’s what happened.”

The notion that he would have to deliver some manner of response to atone for the error clearly irked the Corkman.

“I don’t think they’ll be looking for me to put in a different performance than I would any other week that I play for Ireland. That would be unjust to the jersey.

“I go out every time to play as best as I can and, more important than anyone, I think the lads around me know that.”

O’Mahony wasn’t disguising his sense of frustration at missing out the middle three matches of the Six Nations. However, he did seem to take some level of refreshment from returning to training with Munster, to aid their preparations in the Pro14.

“It’s different when you’re injured. When you’re fit and healthy and raring to go, but can’t, it’s a bit tougher

 ”I spent a couple of great weeks with Munster, training with the A team and stuff, helping the seniors prepare for their games. Back here then last week to help the lads as best I could, which I enjoyed.

“I’m not making any bones about it, I’m looking forward to getting back playing.”

The fact that England are the opposition makes the return all the more tantalising for O’Mahony. In many recent years this is a fixture that has determined the destination of the Championship, but this time around both sides will be desperate to claim some momentum coming out of the tournament.

For Ireland, a win over England would mean quite a bit more than that as it would arrest a run of four defeats to Eddie Jones’ side and mark a first win since the 2018 Grand Slam game in a freezing Twickenham.

“We felt in a few games they dominated us physically but we really stepped up in that last game we played against them,” said Jonathan Sexton, drilling for positives from the 18-7 defeat in November.

“They’re a top quality team. You’re going to have to play really well to get a result against them. Probably for us, we’re going to have to pull out our best performance of the season. That’s a great challenge.”

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