Peter O’Mahony was unusually effusive in his praise for Tadhg Beirne before the Kildare man had played a single game for Munster and nothing he has witnessed since has prompted him to dial that down now that his clubmate is on the verge of a first Six Nations cap.
Beirne has just four appearances to his name but his elevation to the second row at the expense of the injured Iain Henderson has generated far more chatter than Sean O’Brien’s return to the line-up after his omission from the matchday 23 against France last week.
That’s quite something.
O’Brien has 55 caps, is a multiple winner with Leinster and Ireland and a two-time British and Irish Lion. Beirne is basically a rookie at this level and yet there is no doubt but that his presence on the teamsheet has added a surge of extra excitement to proceedings in Cardiff.
O’Mahony described him as a “incredible” signing last summer on the back of Ireland’s tour to Australia when the newbie earned his first two caps. And not just that: he labelled him as “probably the best poacher” in world rugby and a quality footballer.
“Tadhg Beirne has set his own standards over the last two-and-a-half, three years,” O’Mahony added yesterday. “Obviously he’s spent a long time in Scarlets and with us and he’s been incredibly impressive for both the Scarlets and us over the last two or three years.
“He gets his shot in the Six Nations and it’s utterly deserved. He’s put a lot of hard work in. He’s got a couple of knocks here and there but he’s worked hard over the last few weeks and guys know what he brings and how important he’ll be to us is huge this weekend.”
Joe Schmidt spoke this week of a player who has been frustrated by injury and one impatient for his opportunity.
That was an interesting line given the theory floated in some quarters that Beirne may have struggled to do enough in training to truly convince the Irish brains trust that he was ready to execute Schmidt’s precise orders to a tee at this rarified level.
What we know for sure is that Beirne has passed every test presented to him since leaving Leinster on the back of a stint in the academy that had been devastated by injury. And he will have James Ryan alongside him in the Irish engine room in Cardiff this weekend.
Ryan, at just 22, is five years his junior but his stratospheric rise towards the top of world rugby will continue tomorrow when he calls the lineouts in the absence of Devin Toner and Henderson. It is a pivotal role for an Irish side that leans so heavily on its setpiece.
O’Mahony is a crucial piece of that jigsaw, too. The Munster veteran is a regular and dependable target from touch for captain Rory Best and he has every confidence in the capabilities of both his young and his inexperienced second rows.
“We expect all of our guys to take some form of leadership. Jamesie is no different. You see the way he plays. For such a young man, you can’t help but follow him the way he plays.
“That’s the first thing you talk about when it comes to leadership. I suppose, particularly in rugby, your actions talk loudest. None more so than James Ryan. His actions talk loudest.”
O’Mahony’s can’t be more than a decibel behind him. If that. His durability this season, for a player who has endured his fair share of issues in times past, has been astonishing. For club and country. The only time he has been stood down for Ireland all season was in that last 17 minutes against New Zealand in November.
“Certainly robustness was something I have been working on,” said the 29-year old who credits a big pre-season for his form and fitness. “I hadn’t thought about it but it’s great. I feel better for playing more rugby certainly.”