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Is Peter O'Mahony a 6,7 or 8 and does it even matter?

‘I’m not going to name myself down to a position at the moment,’ says the Munster captain.

Peter O'Mahony in the new adidas Munster ERCC jersey.
Peter O'Mahony in the new adidas Munster ERCC jersey.
Image: adidas/SPORTSFILE

FROM WHAT POSITION is Peter O’Mahony best utilised?

Is he an openside flanker due to his ability at the breakdown, does his intelligence and game understanding make him a No. 8, or is his aggression and mobility best taken advantage of from the blindside?

These are questions that still haven’t totally been answered, even if we have seen O’Mahony wear the number six shirt for Ireland and Munster for the majority of the last two seasons.

The 25-year-old is not keen on boxing himself into one role just yet.

“I’m not going to name myself down to a position at the moment,” says O’Mahony. “I’m trying to work on being a rounded player more than being a specific number, you know?”

The vast majority of the Corkman’s Ireland caps have come on the blindside, even if his role within Joe Schmidt’s team during the 2014 Six Nations appeared to be that of a classic openside.

With a relatively low tackle count, O’Mahony instead looked to focus on stealing possession at the breakdown, ranging around the pitch and offering linking passes, rather than making the close-in carries some expect from their six.

I did a lot of work on my tackle reload and my tackle focus last year,” says O’Mahony. “I think it paid off for me towards the end of the year and that would have been naturally a big role of the seven, whereas six would have predominantly been a carrier.”

Despite this alteration of roles, Ireland had a backrow balance, with Jamie Heaslip almost acting as the openside in the No. 8 jersey, racking up huge tackle counts and making gritty carries in tight channels.

IrelandÕs  Peter O'Mahony O'Mahony's skillset in terms of handling, passing at pace and identifying space are a relative rarity in the back row. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

With Chris Henry excelling in the rucking stakes and offering a high work rate, Ireland’s back row functioned well as a unit, even if the roles were slightly mixed up.

Are we, the media and supporters, too obsessed with a six being a six and a seven being a seven? Is the real key in the back row balance?

“I think so, I think you’ve got to find a balance these days,” answers O’Mahony. “I think you [the team] have got to find a balance and a balance that’s right for you [the player], which is what I’m looking to do at the moment.”

O’Mahony’s playing history includes time as an out-half in Presentation Brother College’s Junior Cup team, although a disastrous outing against Old Belvedere swiftly ended that experiment.

I was out-half and we were beaten by Belvo by about 60 points, so the following week I ended up in the second row” explains O’Mahony. “That progressed to the back row and I played a lot at eight when I was younger.”

While it’s a nice story to tell, his history at 10 points to the skill level O’Mahony possesses. His handling ability is excellent, he identifies space well and he understands the game on an impressive level.

It was at No. 8, however, where O’Mahony impressed in underage representative rugby, captaining the Ireland Under 20s from that position in 2009.

Some will suggest that O’Mahony’s relative lack of bulk [Munster and the IRFU list him as 107kg] means he is unsuited to a role that involves high levels of ball-carrying in the tight, although an extended pre-season should help in that regard.

Peter O'Mahony in a line out O'Mahony's line-out reading and mobility make him invaluable. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

O’Mahony’s double shoulder reconstruction last April has seen him miss games at the start of this season, but it has also meant his first uninterrupted pre-season for some time.

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“Over the last couple of years, when you travel and tour it ends up eating into your pre-season and I’ve struggled with completing pre-seasons over the last couple of years. It’s been really refreshing this year, I’m now into my 15th week of pre-season.

It’s a World Cup year and hopefully it’s going to stand to me towards the back end of the season and keeping me healthy throughout the season.”

O’Mahony feels this long-term stint of physical rehabilitation and preparation will give him more durability in this vital upcoming 13-month period, something both of his coaches would appreciate.

When he does get back on the pitch next month for Munster it will be fascinating to see how O’Mahony is used. With the likes of CJ Stander, Robin Copeland and Tommy O’Donnell competing for back row places alongside him, there are several options for Anthony Foley.

For Joe Schmidt’s Ireland, O’Mahony could complement any two of Heaslip, Sean O’Brien, Chris Henry, Rhys Ruddock and Robbie Diack, among others.

Balance looks the key, whatever about numbers on backs.

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Peter O’Mahony was launching the new adidas Munster ERC jersey that will be worn on pitch for the first time on October 18th away to Sale Sharks and is exclusively available from Life Style Sports stores and online at lifestylesports.com.

As official retail partners of Munster Rugby, all season ticket holders get 10% off at Life Style Sports, in-store and online

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Murray Kinsella

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