One of the most enduring rivalries in European club rugby is renewed this weekend as the old foes go toe-to-toe in the Champions Cup home and away rounds three and four for the third season in succession.
In keeping with the best heavyweight collisions, the last two seasons have provided see-saw performances from two clubs striving for a return to the glories enjoyed a decade ago or more with the Tigers becoming the first club to win twice in European competition at Thomond Park when they followed their 2006-07 win with a 31-19 victory over Anthony Foley’s side in December 2015.
Leicester also won the return leg at Welford Road a week later as Munster crashed out at the pool stage for the second season in a row but the Irish province gained revenge 12 months later when they smashed the East Midlands giants 38-0, their second heaviest defeat in Europe.
The relevance of last year’s visit, though, is something O’Mahony questions as Leicester return under the management of Matt O’Connor following the departures of Richard Cockerill and Aaron Mauger last season and with England out-half George Ford signed from Bath to combine with Test half-back partner Ben Youngs at club level.
“It probably means more to them than it does to us, we’re a long way down the track. Obviously, they will look back and say they don’t want that to happen again but to be fair it’s probably wrong for me to say that as well, they’re a different bunch even if they have a lot of the same players that were there. A lot has happened since then and most clubs don’t look back anyway.
“You have got to be looking forward and a team of Leicester’s quality and the standards that they drive are very high, they’re not going to be looking back on that, they will review the game from last weekend and they will want to make improvements and come to Thomond Park and beat us; that’s their mindset.”
Munster may be coming into this game on the back of three straight PRO14 wins and a second-round pool defeat of Racing 92 in October while Tigers have lost three of their last four, including a narrow loss at Wasps last Saturday yet skipper O’Mahony, under the spotlight on a personal level following the leaking of his stalled contract negotiations with the IRFU, recognises that there is also plenty of pressure on his team.
It is an extremely tight Champions Cup pool that sees the Tigers ahead of the Reds only on points difference at the top of the table after two rounds, with Racing 92 just a point behind (on five) and Castres not out of it either (three).
“It’s massive (pressure). It’s like a mini-competition within the pool, the back-to-backs. They are unique. Outside of international rugby, you rarely play someone back to back like this.
“It’s always an interesting one, the history we have with Leicester. We have had a couple of incredible games with them, a lot of history. I wouldn’t expect anything other than a huge test this weekend. They are the only club to have come to Thomond Park and won twice. They won’t have any fear of coming to Thomond Park at the weekend. We have got to do our homework on them, we have got to get ourselves right for it.”
While Leicester had Ford and Youngs back in tandem at Wasps last weekend following their month in England camp, this Saturday will be the first chance new Munster head coach Johann van Graan has to select O’Mahony and fellow Test starters Dave Kilcoyne, Andrew Conway, Conor Murray, and CJ Stander after Ireland’s Guinness Series.
Yet the captain believes the province will not suffer because of the late re-integration to a winning Munster side, nor will the returnees struggle to get up to the pitch of a high-intensity European game.
“It’s different for us here. With the club situation there (in England), they are obviously private clubs. Our (IRFU) protocol was rest last week. I felt I needed it and the lads probably needed it. Lads who are coming back are confident, feeling good after November and are looking to take our experiences and what we have learned, drive them on this week and try and better the lads. For the club, it’s a huge week and it’s a huge week for all of us personally and it’s always the way it’s going to be.”