If Peter O’Mahony has to be in a rugby stadium it is fair to say he would much rather be on the pitch than looking at it.
The Ireland flanker is one of life’s doers rather than viewers, which means sitting in the stands at Aviva Stadium as the bulk of the starting XV from the victory over the Springboks watched their squad-mates beat Georgia was something of an ordeal.
“It’s a lot easier playing, to be honest,” he admits. “You can have an impact, an effect when you’re on the pitch, you can’t really do much from the stands.
“You contribute during the week but once the lads split it’s up to those 23 who take the pitch then. All you can do is shout them on and hope they go well.”
Go well they did as an Eoin Reddan led side wore Georgia down before running in six second-half tries for a 49-7 victory. It was a performance from Joe Schmidt’s second string that impressed Munster captain O’Mahony and brought an extra edge to training when the squad reconvened at Carton House earlier this week to begin preparations for today’s final Guinness Series encounter, the visit to Dublin of an Australia side led by new coach Michael Cheika.
“Guys wanted to get back out there and stick their hand up for a jersey this weekend, the guys who performed against South Africa, the guys given a chance against Georgia. I presume it gave Joe some selection headaches but it was good to get out there and focus on Australia.”
The Ireland camp has seen today’s opponents beat the Barbarians and Wales before losing narrowly to France last weekend and O’Mahony detects a side much improved on the one he faced 12 months ago when the tourists last visited Dublin and ran out 32-15 victors.
“They’ve had a new management come in and there are definitely still some traits there that we’ve seen over the last few months but they’ve brought a new edge to them through their new coaching staff as well,” O’Mahony said.
“They’ve brought a lot of their good stuff through but they’ve certainly added to their game as well.
“We’re under no illusions. We’re going to have to be at our very best to be competing with and then getting ahead of Australia this weekend.
“Add that to the fact that they lost last weekend to France, who would have been a team that they’ve beaten a fair amount over the last 24 months, if we put ourselves in that position we’d be hurting and looking for a big performance. So we know they’re going to come looking to do a job on us at home. But it’s important that we’ve focused on ourselves this week and tried to get ourselves as best prepared as we can.”
Underpinning all of Ireland’s analysis of the current Australian set-up will be the burning disappointment of last year’s defeat to the Wallabies when they outscored O’Mahony and Co by four tries to nil in head coach Schmidt’s second game in charge. The back rower suggests memories of that match will be carried into the arena this afternoon by an Ireland team which is also clearly in a better place a year on from that day as it bids to claim a second southern hemisphere scalp in a month.
“I can remember a scrum that was poor, conceding a maul try, we were just off the pace,” he recalled. “That’s what I can remember of it. And it still hurts. It’s still disappointing and whoever wears the jersey this weekend, there’s a big onus on that 23 to put in a big performance against Australia.
“There are things we are doing better technically. We have improved in areas but I think if we don’t perform against Australia then we’ll be back down four or five steps. We’ve spoken about it this week, that it’s not good enough to have one-off performances, we’ve got to back them up. We’ve just beaten South Africa but we need to be pushing on, competing with these teams all the time. If we’re happy with one-off performances then we’re not going to win trophies. That said, the last two weeks are done and this isn’t about a series or a trophy, it’s just down to Ireland versus Australia. That’s all we’re focused on.”
The fixture is one of those match-ups that has long stood out for O’Mahony, who as a young supporter would relish the opportunity to see one of the old Tri-Nations giants visit Ireland, although he believes the team he is a member of presents a different dynamic to the context of this particular meeting of North versus South.
“When any of the big southern hemisphere teams come over it’s always exciting, as a fan, to be going to the games. To get the opportunity to shout on the guys in Lansdowne Road as it was, or the Aviva, or watching on TV from afar, it was a chance to see them competing against some of the best teams in the world. Now hopefully we’ve created a culture where they come up to see us win against these teams. It puts added pressure on us but that’s good and it’s something we want to build on.”
Expectations for Ireland against the big hitters have only heightened after a near miss against New Zealand a year ago and the victory over South Africa earlier this month. It is suggested to O’Mahony that what he said regarding that culture shift allied to the fact Schmidt’s side are no higher ranked lower than Australia going into today’s game means the Irish should not fear the Wallabies this weekend. That may be the case but fear is still a component as far as he is concerned.
“Look, I think fear will drive us. The fear of losing, the fear of letting the fans down, that’s what drives us, the fear of losing to Australia at the weekend.
“You have to keep progressing. If you keep coming to camp and you’re not moving on then you’re in trouble. You have to bring on what you’ve learned and build on the blocks you’ve laid already. That’s what we’re doing but Saturday’s another building block for us and if we can put that one down it will be a good confidence boost for everyone.
“You can’t go backwards. You’ve got to learn and you’ve got to go forward.”
QUESTIONS: AND ANSWERS
Playing rugby as a kid
“When you go from 11s to 12s and you get a second day in the week training rather than just a Saturday, that was the best time, the best thing that ever happened to me. Then getting into Pres and it getting full on, I lived for it and still do, just getting through the school week just to go training.”
Beating South Africa
“It was a bit bittersweet for us as a pack. As a squad we defended very well but as a pack we struggled a bit lineout-wise — we conceded a maul try and the scrum was a little bit shaky. We won (as a team) but we were a bit disappointed as eight forwards and the subs as well. Still, it was the first time I’d beaten a southern hemisphere side like South Africa and it was important for me. But what’s probably more important to me is to back it up with a performance at the weekend.”
Debutant Dave Foley, man of the match against Georgia
“He’s not fazed. He’s hardy out and one of his big attributes is that he learns quickly. With a guy like Paulie around mentoring you then you’re going to learn a lot. You just have to try and take in as much as you can and we’ve seen that in his performances he’s consistently been putting in over the last 18 months or so. I was delighted he got his cap last week, that he took his opportunity and took his first cap with such a good performance.”
Returning to full fitness following two shoulder reconstructions
“You just try and go as hard as you can and if you run yourself to a standstill the great thing about being involved with the teams I am involved with is that there’s great guys on the bench who can come on and make an impact. So you can just go as hard as you can, certainly in the first few weeks, to see how far you can get yourself. I certainly feel now I can put in a good 80-minute performance.”
The Paul O’Connell to Pau speculation
“I don’t think Paulie’s going anywhere. He’s probably a bit old and fragile to be shifting everything over to France. He’ll kill me for saying that but look, I don’t think there’s any truth in it.”
His own contract, up at the end of the season
“That’s a chat for another day. We’ll be getting stuck into that over the next couple of months, fingers crossed.”
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