Peter O’Mahony: Munster leaders must stand up and be counted during critical spell

As Munster’s well-established captain and one of the most respected players in the game, Peter O’Mahony appreciates more than anyone the critical position in which Munster now find themselves.
Peter O’Mahony: Munster leaders must stand up and be counted during critical spell

Less than satisfactory back-to-back performances against Leinster and Castres have cast a shadow although they have the ideal opportunity to regain the trust of the Red Army when Ronan O’Gara’s Racing 92 turn up at Thomond Park on Saturday.

There are many competing issues occupying O’Mahony’s attention, not least the impending departure of director of rugby Rassie Erasmus and the arrival of replacement Johann Van Graan.

“I think myself and 10 of the other senior guys are going to be a very important link,” O’Mahony recognises.

“We’re not going to be changing the wheel, Johann is going to come in and I think his experience speaks for itself... hugely impressive CV.

“Everyone I have spoken to about him speaks very highly of him. I’m certainly looking forward to getting coached by him and getting to know him.

“And I suppose myself and the leadership group are going to be a very important bridge, not so much getting him up to speed with what we do here because he’s going to implement his few things. And we’ll be the drivers of it same as we are with the current lads as well. It’s always a very important relationship.”

There has been an understandable feeling among Munster supporters that the quicker than expected departure of Erasmus and his replacement by another South African unknown to the players might have created uncertainty in the camp. But O’Mahony reassured otherwise.

“If I was going to be genuinely honest — and this is speaking very highly of Jacques and Rassie — it didn’t affect us,” he insisted.

“The lads carried on as if they were staying. If you came in over the last six weeks or so, compared to this time last year, the meetings were the exact same. The guys were driving it, there was no difference. Jonesy (Felix Jones) and Fla (Jerry Flannery) stood up and took a little more onus and the guys gave them a little more work but there was no effect on the players from that side of things. There was a lot of talk about it and that’s something you can’t really get away from but we had our heads down here.”

O’Mahony’s anger at some of the questions put to him in the wake of the Leinster defeat has been well chronicled. And in spite of a less than inspiring performance against Castres, he won’t ignore the positives.

“We struggled against Leinster, our discipline was poor but I thought there was a big improvement last week. We stepped up and a lot of good things came out of it. We put ourselves in a position to win the game although I suppose we put ourselves in a position to lose as well but there were a huge amount of positives.

“There were too many penalties, I think just one in the first half but too many in the second. It’s down to a little bit of individual stuff and probably a little bit of cuter play at times and it’s something to work on again this week.

“I thought defence was a good aspect of our game.

“One of the things that stuck out for me was some of the scrambled stuff ... Sweets (Darren Sweetnam) in the far corner, Earlsy (Keith) putting the scrum-half into touch, we were under pressure had they scored those two. And it shows what it meant to guys, working across, making last-ditch efforts. At times you are going to lose a battle here and there and you have guys here who show up for you and cover your back.”

It doesn’t get any easier for Munster with the star-studded Racing 92 at Thomond Park this weekend for, hopefully, another of those memorable Saturday night European Cup thrillers.

“From my point of view, they are quality from 1 to 23 no matter who comes over,” said O’Mahony. “From a forwards’ point of view, I think they mauled every one of their line-outs bar one at the weekend so obviously it is going to be a big physical encounter as it always is with the big French packs. But of course they also have the quality out in the backs as well with finishers like Teddy Thomas, these kinds of operators are world-class so we’re going to have to be very good. And of course it all starts with the pack.”

O’Mahony and Munster are well aware of the threat posed by giant Fijian second-row Leone Nakarawa.

“We have played a huge amount against him between Glasgow and Racing and it doesn’t get any easier. I think he had 10 offloads at the weekend. I don’t think we can go around saying we are going to stop him offloading, rather than defend the channels either side of him I suppose.”

But Munster are at home and the Thomond Park influence is always crucially important.

“It’s almost cup rugby all of the time now. The teams you’re coming up against are big names after big names and individuals with big names after big names. European Cup nights at Thomond Park are very special. There’s a savage amount of pressure but also a savage amount of enjoyment in getting your head down and getting stuck in and working hard.

“The fans get behind us, everyone in Munster loves Europe and maybe at times you might take it for granted. But you shouldn’t do that. Guys spoke about leaving the jersey in a good place and these are the kinds of evenings when that needs to be done.”

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