Bruised and exhausted Peter O’Mahony can now rest on his laurels

Peter O’Mahony’s pain as he rose from the bench to celebrate Ireland’s victory was as excruciating as the preceding minutes had been for those in the Aviva Stadium to watch on Saturday night.

Bruised and exhausted Peter O’Mahony can now rest on his laurels

Peter O’Mahony’s pain as he rose from the bench to celebrate Ireland’s victory was as excruciating as the preceding minutes had been for those in the Aviva Stadium to watch on Saturday night.

Less than 20 minutes earlier, the sell-out crowd had risen in unison to salute the Ireland vice-captain — whom Joe Schmidt would later describe as an “absolute warrior” — as he walked gingerly from the pitch, his day’s work complete and objective reached.

The 29-year-old Cork man had put in a magnificent shift for 63 minutes of this pulsating contest between the two best teams in the world. He deserved the ovation as his battered body was called ashore.

He had undergone running repairs to both a shoulder and hamstring, in between turning over New Zealand ball, winning lineouts, and making a last-ditch dive to deny All Blacks wing, Ben Smith, a certain try. But when the full-time whistle blew and he stood to applaud his team-mates, his hamstring must have screamed. The wince on O’Mahony’s face, as others portrayed pure joy, told you everything you needed to know about the blindside flanker’s contribution to the cause.

It was an outstanding effort from the collective and not least the Irish pack, but O’Mahony was also part of a smaller, quite magnificent unit, in a back-row alongside Josh van der Flier and Munster club-mate, CJ Stander. All performed heroics, but O’Mahony’s efforts were exemplary. For a man who had missed the historic first win over New Zealand, in Chicago, two years ago (because he was short on match fitness, following a year out from injury) this was a match to lay some demons to rest.

“Peter was immense today,” O’Mahony’s lineout leader, Devin Toner, said of the man who had also captained the British & Irish Lions in the 2017 first Test against the All Blacks, but been called off after 53 minutes, not to play again in the rest of the series.

This was a redemption day for the Munster captain and his man-of-the-match award will remind him of that.

O’Mahony made one of his most significant involvements shortly before his departure, turning and then chasing back a Beauden Barrett grubber kick into the corner, before leaping and plucking the bouncing ball out of the air to deny Smith what would have been a vital score for the world champions, as they looked to claw back a 16-6 deficit with 20 minutes remaining.

Ireland scrum-half, Luke McGrath, had only been on the pitch for a few minutes, as a replacement for Kieran Marmion, when O’Mahony made his try-saving dive.

“That was absolutely unbelievable,” McGrath said of the moment. “I thought his hamstring nearly went, when he was running back. I just couldn’t believe he came out with the ball.

“The determination he has, you see it in training. He led the team all week. He leads by example every single time. I’m absolutely over the moon to see him come away (with the ball).”

Given his whole-hearted approach, O’Mahony was undoubtedly slated to be one of Ireland’s frontliners rested for this Saturday’s final Guinness Series game, against the United States, but today’s injury report may well make that a moot point, with Munster supporters keeping their fingers crossed that their captain is not sidelined much longer than next weekend, with a home-and-away double-header against Castres, in the Heineken Champions Cup, fast-approaching in the middle of next month.

Schmidt was just grateful O’Mahony was able to return to action after half-time, such was the effort he had put in for the opening 40 minutes, so much so he was rendered silent during the interval.

“No,” he had not spoken much, the head coach confirmed. “He was sucking air. He was just trying to get air in. He had a bit of a dead leg, so he was just trying to keep that moving, because if that seizes up, he’s not going to be able to run. So, he was just trying to get himself into the best possible position to continue for us in the second-half.

“Pete was huge. I mentioned him in that goalkeeper’s save, when they chipped through. His ability over the ball, I think he got two really important steals and his lineout acumen and athleticism continue to be a real strength for us, and he was beaten up in the first 40, so he came in and he’s that absolute warrior who goes back out.”

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