If ever there was a man primed for a tough day at the rugby coalface, it is Peter O’Mahony; relaxed, fresh and ready for what the Ireland flanker expects will be typically abrasive collision with the Italy pack on Sunday.
Never mind that Italy have looked a shadow of the side they were four years ago in New Zealand, when Ireland met the in-form Azzurri in a must-win pool game in Dunedin, O’Mahony — who looks set to return to the starting line-up after a weeks’ rest — is prepared to meet an Italian side playing with an added dose of desperation as they bid to stay alive in Pool D.
Having lost to the French at Twickenham in game one, and stumbled over the winning line at Elland Road last Saturday against Canada, the Italians look to be paying the price for a fractious pre-season which saw discontent in the camp over payments during the tournament. They have since lost experienced backs Andrea Masi and Luca Morisi to injury and now hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini appears set to miss this weekend’s Olympic Stadium clash after limping out of the narrow Canada win with a hip flexor problem.
Yet the one bright hope for Italy is the return of the talismanic No. 8 and captain Sergio Parisse, and O’Mahony is expecting a different beast from what has been seen to this point.
“We’re preparing for an Italian side that’s going to come out and click and gel and give us as good a battle as they have over the last three or four seasons in the Six Nations,” O’Mahony said.
“When they’re good, they’re on fire, and obviously Parisse coming back in is going to give them a big boost. Guys like (back row Alessandro) Zanni, experienced guys like that, will be relishing the challenge.
“They are very tough to play against, they have an extremely formidable pack. Guys like (lock Josh) Furno and Ghiraldini, there’s world class players in their pack and in their backline as well. Every time we come against them, it’s hugely physical so it’s an extremely tough game.”
Physicality is something O’Mahony and his fellow Irish forwards relish and the Munster captain believes they face it week in, week out on the international stage, regardless of the quality of the opposition.
“I think you are getting to a stage now where every game is going to be physical the way rugby has gone, the way players are built, physicality is a huge part of every game. It is a huge part of psychology, it is certainly a huge part of the pack mentality that we live in, that we have grown up in, the forwards. It is important for every international we play in.”
It was put to the Corkman that he was the latest in a long line of Munster “enforcers”, such as Mick Galwey and Peter Clohessy but O’Mahony initially bridled at the suggestion he was some sort of go-to bad guy.
“I don’t really know what that means. I do know what you are talking about. I wouldn’t think so. That’s not the way I look at it. Certainly the way my rugby has gone over the past two years, it is not something that I would look at, it is not something I would want being viewed as, that guys see me that way it is hopefully for my physicality and not for any other reason.”
When the term “enforcer” is re-explained as more of a player renowned for that consistent physical intensity during games, O’Mahony saw it differently.
“Yeah, well in that case it is obviously a compliment and I’ll certainly take it. I just try go about things the same as I can every weekend and try to lift my physicality depending on who I am playing against, just try and be as physical as I can and be at the coalface as often as I can.”
Just the sort of player that will be needed this weekend.
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