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POM prepping to cover openside with versatility key at World Cup

The 29-year-old started a game in the seven shirt for Ireland in Australia last summer.

ONE OF THE biggest challenges of the Rugby World Cup revolves around the number 31.

World Rugby’s official limit for squad sizes is the bane of most World Cup coaches’ existences, forcing them to cut their options in certain areas of the pitch in order to have a little more depth in others.

Last Saturday after Ireland’s warm-up win over Italy, Joe Schmidt touched on the importance of players being versatile, reminding us that centre Garry Ringrose has experience on the wing.

Peter O’Mahony O'Mahony is an ambassador for Marks & Spencer. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

With opensides Dan Leavy and Sean O’Brien both ruled out of the World Cup due to injury, the back row options will need to be adaptable in Japan too, something Peter O’Mahony is cognisant of.

Though he smiles and says, “I don’t think so” when jokingly asked if he’s ready to fill in at out-half, where he briefly played as a schoolboy, O’Mahony understands the need for versatility. 

Recognised as Ireland’s first-choice blindside flanker, the Munster captain is prepared to shift across to the openside if required, as he did last summer for Ireland’s third Test against the Wallabies in Australia, albeit lasting half an hour before being forced off injured following an aerial challenge from Israel Folau.

During this year’s Six Nations, it was CJ Stander who shifted to openside twice upon the introduction of number eight Jack Conan off the bench, and Ireland’s back rows are continuing to prep for any such moves.

“You can’t nail your name to the cross and say, ‘I’m a six,’ particularly at a World Cup with a tightish squad,” explains O’Mahony, who was a number eight as he came through the underage ranks with Munster.

“I don’t think there’s anyone really who can play only one position, you’ve got to mix and match.

“We’ve done that a bit in training over the last few weeks. If there aren’t guys available for whatever reason, guys missing a session or whatever, we’ve been swapping around a bit and getting as comfortable as possible.

“It’s a long way to drag someone [to Japan] if needed. Particularly for training, it’s important that you have two 15s training either side of the ball, so you’ve got to be good in all the positions.”

Peter O'Mahony leaves the pitch injured O'Mahony wore the 7 shirt in Australia last summer. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

While some will be challenged more than others – Ian Madigan had to learn Ireland’s scrum-half roles for the last World Cup – O’Mahony says the shift from six to seven doesn’t involve too much change.

“For me, personally, there isn’t a huge amount because naturally, I’d stay in the lineout,” says the Cork man.

“The big thing would be the movement of the lineout, so a lot of times the seven will drop out on shortened lineouts, whereas I wouldn’t drop out, even if I was at seven.

“It makes my learning and my ability to play there that little bit easier because that [lineout] role will stay with me as fixed a lot of the time. Then it’s just scrum and that’s easy enough.”

Of course, O’Mahony will hope to be required only in his usual role on the blindside of the scrum as he faces into his second World Cup.

His 2015 tournament was ended by a ruptured ACL in his right knee during the pool-stage win over France that cost Ireland several other players including Paul O’Connell and Johnny Sexton.

O’Mahony was not unleashed in the first warm-up game last weekend but seems likely to feature against England on 24 August, following Ireland’s eight-day training camp in Portugal.

The 29-year-old felt Ireland delivered “an impressive performance” against Italy, particularly as he’s aware how the first game of a new season is “torturous on the lungs and the legs.”

Peter O'Mahony O'Mahony at Ireland training this summer. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

O’Mahony is now keen for Ireland to build from that 29-10 victory in Dublin, as they gradually begin to show their World Cup hand.

“There’s a huge amount of stuff we’ve been working on that we can add to as well, and it’s great to have a reference point to kick on from.

“There’s a lot of football in the team and there are good footballers and guys who can play the game well. We’ve been working on things certainly, but I can’t be giving away secrets!”

Asked what he sees as being key tactically at this World Cup, O’Mahony says that some things in rugby will never change.

“If you’re going to be competitive, you’re going to have to be a seriously complete team. That’s something that we’re trying to work on – across the board, being a little bit more complete.

“From my point of view, set-pieces are massive. You look at the Rugby Championship, you look at the access points that teams are getting – it’s lineout, scrum, not so much scrum, certainly lineout. I think restart is hugely important.

“Set-pieces are our key, you’ve got to be across your basics. It sounds like it’s stone-age rugby and the game has changed a lot in many areas but it hasn’t when it comes to set-piece and your basics.

“You haven’t got a hope if your set-piece isn’t good enough, you’re not going to compete.”

To celebrate 40 years in Ireland, Marks & Spencer has revealed Peter O’Mahony as its first Irish sports ambassador, building on its existing sponsorship of the Munster Rugby Community programme.

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Murray Kinsella

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