Having lost three times in a row to Stuart Lancaster’s side, the Irish blindside flanker has long respected the men in white. He came on as a sub at Twickenham for his fourth cap in his Six Nations debut season in 2012 and ran into a scrummaging masterclass being conducted by the English front row in a 30-9 defeat, then experienced two narrow losses at home and away.
Yet the Munster captain, now 25, believes England will be even harder to beat this time around when the RBS 6 Nations’ two unbeaten teams clash in Dublin, and that chances will have to be taken.
“They’ve certainly improved over the last two or three years. They’ve a new coach who’s come in and done very well with them and seems to suit them,” O’Mahony told the Irish Examiner. “They’ve a great balance to their game and a big physical pack and some new guys coming into the backline that have added a real spark and flair to their attacking game.
“They’re tough to analyse but not everyone’s perfect and we’re far from perfect at times but when opportunities come for us at the weekend, I think it’s most important for us to take them because they’ll be few and far between.
“Their defence is excellent, they’ve huge line speed and they’re well able to defend in a line. So when we do manipulate them or we do beat them around the corner, when we do make an opportunity for ourselves, it’s very important that we take it.”
O’Mahony and fellow Irish back-rowers Sean O’Brien and Jordi Murphy will be at the frontline of the battle for supremacy, leading a breakdown unit he believes has more to give to the cause and will need to start delivering against English trio James Haskell, Billy Vunipola and captain Chris Robshaw.
“We’ve probably been a little bit behind at times, breakdown-wise, and we’ve got to be better than where we were for the last two games,” the Corkman said.
“They’re a quality unit, their back row. Haskell has come back in and he’s playing really well, giving them dynamic, go-forward ball along with Billy as well and Robshaw, they’re getting them on the front foot. That’s where rugby is at and they’re going really well. It’s an area we have to look at, an area where they’re hugely strong and I think their pack in general with (Dave) Attwood and (George) Kruis, guys like (Joe) Marler and (Dylan) Hartley, they can all carry as well. It’s going to need a big performance from our pack to try and push them back.”
O’Mahony has crossed swords with the England captain in both the Heineken Cup and Six Nations and is clearly impressed by the Harlequins flanker’s actions.
“He’s a very, very capable, good quality player. He brings a great leadership and direction to them and he’s a great all-round player as well, well able to throw the ball around and well able to put his head down and do the dirty work as well, which is always something that’s good to see in your captain. I think he’s improving all the time and adding to his leadership capabilities all the time.”
Captaincy is a subject O’Mahony takes very seriously and he admitted it played a part in his decision to sign a new three-year IRFU contract last week which will keep in his native province until at least summer 2018. He felt his leadership role at Munster factored into considerations.
“It shouldn’t have done but it probably did. You’ve got to look out for yourself but I’ve got to look out for the young guys coming through as well. There’s a couple of guys who have decided to leave over the past few months and it’s important to have some of the leadership group sign up again and show their support. I’m proud to play for one of the great clubs and proud of playing for Ireland as well.”
Was it ever in doubt O’Mahony would be pulling on a red shirt again?
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I wanted to stay with Munster, I wanted to stay playing with Ireland, I’m enjoying my rugby and it’s home for me, so I don’t think it was ever in doubt. There’s great things going on in Irish rugby, some great players coming through in the provinces including Munster and it’s great to see. I’ve always been proud of the way we bring players through and progress players to the highest level and I want to be a part of that.”