They may sit atop the Six Nations table with two rounds to go but Peter O’Mahony admits Ireland are still being held back by a familiar and frustrating lack of consistency.
Perhaps the most persistent criticism of the national side under former coach Declan Kidney was the inability to produce high-quality, back-to-back winning performances together against top teams.
Joe Schmidt’s side have shown a more reliable level of performance stretching back to the November international against New Zealand but have dropped off late on against the All Blacks and, now, England.
The search for a complete 80-minute performance continues to escape a group that has become uncomfortably familiar with losing out at the death.
Quite simply, the moniker of ‘clutch’ team eludes them.
“Yeah, the teams that you see doing that are probably very experienced teams who have been there,” said O’Mahony. “To most extents we should be nearly there ourselves. We should be finishing out those games and it’s disappointing that we’re not because we have an experience there.
“We have talked about the consistency in games that we should be finishing off. At times we are and at times we’re not. That’s probably our inconsistency coming back to bite us. It’s certainly something we’ve talked about stamping out of our game.”
O’Mahony has had plenty of time to digest the 13-10 defeat at Twickenham that cost Ireland a Triple Crown given he limped off with 10 minutes to go and has sat out the last two days of the mini-camp in Belfast. Dodgy hamstrings don’t earn exemptions from video sessions, however, and the Munster flanker has had ample opportunity to pour over the last quarter against England when victory slipped away.
“There’s no need to panic. We didn’t become a bad team overnight. We’re playing good rugby and putting ourselves in good positions to put some more points on the board. The sooner we realise that — the fact that we’re putting ourselves in those positions — then the sooner we’ll start taking them.”
The opportunity for retribution has been stalled by the two-week gap between England and the visit to Dublin of Italy next Saturday week, and the hope is the delay doesn’t have other ramifications. The media coverage this last five days would suggest turning up will be the hardest part of Ireland’s brief against the Azzurri and O’Mahony had to face enquiries yesterday about cakewalks and points difference.
He made all the right sounds in reply.
The ‘one-game-at-a-time’ cliché was rolled out — apologetically, to be fair — and Italy’s pack was bigged up with Sergio Parisse getting the usual honourable welcome.
The Munster man’s first meeting with Italy was a 20-minute cameo two years ago when 32 points separated the sides, but last year’s events in Rome give him more reason than most to preach caution.
O’Mahony ended that one out on the wing, a symbol of how far a catastrophic injury list had made Kidney reach into his bag of resources, and the resultant loss put the tin hat on a campaign of dire lows.
“It was strange, all right. To be fair, defending outside Drico on a five-metre scrum wasn’t always something I had pictured growing up. These things happen at times. Sometimes freakish things happen.”
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