Peter O’Mahony captains Ireland for the first time in a Six Nations game on Sunday as he returns to the scene of an infamous defeat at Italy’s Stadio Olimpico.
The Munster skipper and blindside flanker will lead his country in the absence of rested regular captain Rory Best, just as he did last summer when his team won a first Test series in Australia but his arrival in Rome this weekend has brought back a timely reminder of of the consequences when things go wrong.
O’Mahony was a part of the team which suffered Ireland’s only Six Nations loss to Italy, a 22-15 defeat to the Azzurri in the final game of the 2013 campaign which spelled the end of Declan Kidney’s tenure as head coach.
And as the 29-year-old led Ireland through their captain’s run training session at Stadio Olimpico on Saturday afternoon, the bad memories of that day six years ago came flooding back.
“Coming down the tunnel there, there’s a hoarding there where the media stand and I remember doing media immediately after that game and I got a shiver down my spine,” O’Mahony said.
“We'll be looking for a big performance tomorrow. We understand how difficult it is every time you come to Rome, we know the physicality required.”
With O’Mahony confirming the travelling squad had all come through Saturday’s session, the Corkman looked forward to his seventh start as Ireland captain and first in the championship that means so much to him and so many others.
“It’s hugely special. Every time you picked to play for Ireland is an incredible honour and I’ve been lucky enough to captain the team on a couple of occasions before when the main lads were out but obviously the chance to get to captain the team in the Six Nations, it’s an incredible competition, the best in the world, and… it’s about personal milestones but it is certainly special for me to be asked to lead the lads out tomorrow.
“It doesn’t change my week or what I do, to be honest. It’s nice to be asked. There’s an incredible amount of history gone with Irish captains and it’s a huge honour to play. It’s just a little bit more special but it doesn’t change my week or I won’t say anything differently than the way I would have felt during the week if I wasn’t the captain but as I said, it’s certainly a nice honour to do it.”
O’Mahony will lead a much-changed forward pack as Ireland look to gather momentum after gaining their first victory of the 2019 Guinness Six Nations last time out in Scotland.
Aside from hooker Best, loosehead prop Cian Healy and lock James Ryan have been rested while there is a third No.8 of the campaign with Jordi Murphy stepping into the position in the wake of Scotland starter Jack Conan suffering an abdominal strain in training. Dave Kilcoyne, Sean Cronin and Ultan Dillane step up to the starting pack but if Italy captain Leonardo Ghiraldini thinks that offers his side an opportunity of a first Six Nations win since 2015, he was not letting on.
“I don't think so, for us it doesn't change a lot for us,” Ghiraldini said in his press conference on Saturday. “The captain Rory Best might be missing, but Sean Cronin is playing, he has 67 caps, he plays for Leinster; he won everything last season.
“So it doesn't change the quality of the team.”