The look on Peter O’Mahony’s face says almost as much as the words that follow.
Asked about his understanding of transition and the seemingly choppy and turbulent times he and his international team-mates now find themselves in, he shrugs and exudes puzzlement. Then he admits that he never really understood the meaning in a negative sporting context.
“Every team goes through a stage where younger guys come in and are knocking on the door,” he said.
“We’re lucky enough to have a big group all at once. That’s great, even the older fellas are getting a kick and a buzz from them being around and it’s benefiting everyone. But guys coming through, it happens every team.”
Maybe the 23-year-old back row is such a part of the upheaval, he can’t see it for what it is. After all, on one side of the Cork man at the press conference in Carton House, team manager Michael Kearney is talking about the 17 new faces that are in the squad compared to the World Cup ensemble of a year ago.
Meanwhile, on the other side, assistant coach Mark Tainton mentions Paddy Jackson’s control of the game against Fiji and the positive pressure that experimental side put on more established names ahead of Saturday’s clash with Argentina.
“When new guys come in, it brings a different perspective to things,” adds O’Mahony. “Rugby is always evolving and to have guys who see things differently is great for everyone. I’m sure even Declan [Kidney] is learning off some of the younger fellas. Rog [O’Gara] and Jamie [Heaslip] and the guys with loads of caps are learning from them too.
“It’s great for everyone to have that competition; everyone wants to win in a Test jersey and they push each other. And that Fiji performance, it was really positive and it was a joy to watch and the lads playing really gave everyone in the squad a lift.”
If so, it was timely, as those who’ve been around the block could do with it. Back when Ireland were winning a Grand Slam in 2009, O’Mahony was captaining Munster A to a British and Irish Cup. But if his career has progressed rapidly to the point he now has eight international caps, he’s joined a side that has regressed down a sharp incline.
Indeed, since Declan Kidney’s finest achievement, Ireland have played 31 Tests against top-tier teams and won just 11. The fact four were against Italy and three were against Scotland makes that statistic look still gloomier, but O’Mahony is only looking forward and to what he hopes is a future basking in some shards of lights.
“Those past achievements, they are huge for a nation, but as a group of players we are talking about creating our own legacy. There are fellas there that have won Grand Slams, but a lot of us weren’t involved in those squads so we are trying to go down our own path.”
Not that the first steps have been easy. South Africa ground them down and O’Mahony is well aware Argentina will pose almost as big a challenge.
“They’ve a world-class back row. They are a big pack. Their maul is very dangerous and they’ve a good line-out. The [southern hemisphere] championship, it’s been huge for them, getting involved has been very helpful and they’ve come on leaps and bounds.
“From doing video analysis, and from watching them over the last six months, they are a very potent side. They haven’t gone away from that physical team they were but they added other things and it’s made them a rounded team. But the breakdown is where international games are won these days and that’s where we are going to be focusing on. Not just one to eight, not just the pack, it’s as much a backs’ issue so we are just going to look for a physical performance from one to 15.
“I keep bringing up their back row but as a 15 they are accurate and that’s what you want at a breakdown. We just have to look for opportunities and do better than they do there.”
By now that initial look of puzzlement has long left his face. Transition or not, he knows exactly what it’s going to take for Ireland to start the climb back towards where they once proudly stood.
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