A good hour had passed since Saturday’s final whistle and yet Peter O’Mahony was still catching the eye. As Joe Schmidt and Paul O’Connell held court at the top table press conference, the Munster flanker could be seen through the side door, lounging luxuriously on a couch, chatting and smiling into a mobile phone.
It was about the only time O’Mahony was in anything but perpetual motion after a performance that helped neuter Wales’ vaunted back row and garnered him the man-of-the-match award.
O’Mahony is building up a body of work that belies his 24 short years and if there is a sight that remains etched in the memory after this one it must be that of the man’s upside-down torso sticking out of a ruck. Much more of this and he may as well swap his No. 6 jersey for a 9. He was everywhere. All the time. Or so it seemed. This was his 21st appearance for Ireland, and impressive though his first 20 were, this one felt like a coming of age.
“It’s gotta be up there,” he admitted when asked if this was his best yet. “Just doing the jersey justice is a great feeling. Sitting down with a cup of tea from (masseur) Willie Bennett afterwards, with the lads around you, is a great feeling. It’s brilliant.”
When people talk about the benefits of experience in rugby they usually apply it to the playmakers or maybe young tight heads who break through but who are constantly told that knowledge is power and that it takes years to accumulate.
It is rarely mentioned in relation to the back row where dynamism and doggedness are deemed a more marketable commodity but it takes brains and good instincts to know when to delve in to rucks and when to leave well enough alone.
Sean O’Brien is 27 now and, world-class player he is, he has only really begun to show his abilities in the poaching department in the last year or two. O’Mahony already seems to have it down to a tee and he is three years younger.
“I’m getting there,” was as far as he would go. “I’m always learning. There is still a lot of work to be done. I’m far from the finished article but I’m enjoying it at the moment. I’m learning a lot under the new coaching staff and I’m learning a lot from the players as well.
“We practice a lot of it on the pitch but when it comes to the breakdown, it’s the mental side of things. You’ve just gotta be there early, you’ve got to anticipate, and that’s what we’ve been instilling over the past couple of weeks, — anticipating before it happens. It seems to be going in the right direction.”
There’s a price to be paid for it. Rory Best spoke later about how Chris Henry looks like he has just run a marathon and been battered and bruised after an 80-minute stint in the back row and O’Mahony reckons it will be Wednesday before he begins to shake the last of the stiffness and soreness from his system. Pain eases quicker on the back of days like Saturday, though. Another balm will be a stats chart that shows Ireland conceding just nine penalties to their opponents’ 15 despite the fury with which the home team operated at the breakdown.
“It’s something we’ve been working on a lot. We haven’t been over 10 and double figures is not where we want to be. We haven’t been in double figures, not in November and not in the last two games either, that is very pleasing. We’re trying to throw a positive picture. We’re trying to show we want to play ball, to the referees especially. I think they are rewarding us for it and the lads’ discipline again (Saturday) was very good and it’s a very pleasing aspect of it.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved