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O'Mahony works towards his peak as Munster return to European knock-outs

O’Mahony says his side will embrace the challenge of re-integrating their international players this week.

THE THOMOND PARK faithful might feel that this week sees Munster back where they belong, facing into a European knock-out clash.

It’s the first time in three years that the southern province have a quarter-final and it is a neat coincidence that Toulouse return to Limerick, having visited for that 2014 clash, when Rob Penney’s men scored six tries in an emphatic victory.

[image alt="Peter O'Mahony" src="http://cdn.thejournal.ie/media/2017/03/peter-omahony-117-630x411.jpg" width="630" height="411" class="alignnone" /end]

Much has changed since for both sides, however, and captain Peter O’Mahony is playing down the relevance of that contest, even with Munster being eight-point favourites for Saturday [KO 5.45pm, Sky Sports 2].

The Ireland international is also insistent that his province don’t belong in the knock-out stages of this competition.

“You don’t belong in a quarter-final,” said O’Mahony. “You’ve got to work bloody hard for it and I think that’s what we’ve done, but we’ve got another big week now to work hard. It’s knock-out rugby.

“It’s game over if you lose, and then it’s all for nothing. It is a great to have a game back, but these are the games you want to be involved in because you want to remember them for good reasons, and that’s what we have to prepare for this week.”

While Munster had a fine day back in 2014, O’Mahony lasted only a quarter of the game before dislocating his shoulder. The 27-year-old will naturally be hoping for a happier individual outing this time around, as he continues to build back towards his peak.

O’Mahony was man of the match for Ireland against England two weekends ago in his only start of the Six Nations and has been impressing for Munster since October of last year.

That return followed a year out of the game after a serious ACL injury, and even though he is performing superbly, O’Mahony still feels he is some way off his peak.

“I’ve still a bit to go, I’d say it’s two years before your knee is back feeling normal again,” said the back row. ”It doesn’t feel like the other one, but it’s getting there.

“I’m still tipping away, I’ve loads of rehab and prehab to do always, I keep on top of it and I’ll probably have that for the rest of my career. It’s feeling good.

[image alt="Ireland’s Peter O’Mahony" src="http://cdn.thejournal.ie/media/2017/03/irelands-peter-omahony-2-630x493.jpg" width="630" height="493" class="alignnone" /end]

“It just doesn’t feel like the other one, I haven’t damaged the other one – touch wood – but it’s funny then when you get a little niggle like I did at the start of the Six Nations, every other ache goes away, other than your hamstring.

“It’s probably in your head, a lot of it. It’s probably something I’ve to learn to deal with a bit better, the brain side of things rather than the body, which is probably fine. I’ve to get on with it.”

In fairness to O’Mahony, it never looks like he is doing anything other than getting on with it and he certainly couldn’t be accused of holding anything back.

Judging by his lineout jumping against England, there is very little physical hangover from the ACL injury and he confirms that his counter-movement jump scores are back to where they were pre-injury.

O’Mahony got the Monday after the England game off, but he was straight back into Munster action last weekend, starting in the comfortable Guinness Pro12 win over Zebre in Italy.

“Before England, I’d 29 minutes of rugby in seven weeks, so I’m just trying to get a bit of minutes under me,” said O’Mahony by way of underlining his happiness at being immediately back into the thick of the action for Munster.

O’Mahony is not the only Ireland international coming back into the Munster mix, of course, with Niall Scannell and John Ryan also returning to start last weekend.

Saturday’s clash with Toulouse will see Keith Earls, CJ Stander, Donnacha Ryan, Simon Zebo and Conor Murray – injury aside – coming into the Munster XV after post-Six Nations holidays, meaning a notable amount of reintegration in a short space of time.

[image alt="Peter O'Mahony" src="http://cdn.thejournal.ie/media/2017/03/peter-omahony-118-630x392.jpg" width="630" height="392" class="alignnone" /end]

While O’Mahony points out that Munster’s systems and language are “quite different” to Ireland’s, he feels Rassie Erasmus’ men can settle in quickly enough to make an impact against Toulouse.

“It’s a bit of a challenge, we’ll put ourselves under huge pressure this week to get three good days of training done,” said O’Mahony. ”We certainly won’t be winging it, we’ll put a lot of detail in this week. Guys will be coming in after a week off and they’ll be fresh. We’ll be looking for them to drive it.

“Guys who have got their first experience of international rugby now are driving it, we’ve had more guys in national camp who can drive that intensity and professionalism, so it’s great.

“The guys that were here have put guys under pressure who are coming back, so it’s a healthy place for the squad to be in.”

Defeat away to Bordeaux last weekend saw Toulouse drop to 10th in the Top 14, but O’Mahony insists Munster are not reading anything into the French side’s league position.

Instead, he’s looking at their record of four European trophies as an indicator of what awaits on Saturday.

“I suppose, on paper, history-wise, there’s a huge amount of success between the two clubs. Two very proud clubs coming together and it’s always a great occasion.

“It’s always physical and it’s always almost violent, and I don’t think we’re going to expect anything else on Saturday.

“I don’t think they’re coming over here having anything to fear. It’s always a scalp to beat Munster in a quarter-final.”

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Murray Kinsella

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