Munster’s leading try scorer may have a new contract in his back pocket but as the province’s Ireland stars return from the Six Nations campaign, Ronan O’Mahony knows he has to keep proving his worth.
ZEBRE V MUNSTER
Saturday: Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, 3pm
Bet: Zebre 7/1, Munster 1/12, Draw 30/1
Wing O’Mahony, 27, is in the sort of form which prompted Munster to offer him the opportunity to extend his time on the playing staff and made the decision to stay in his native province a simple one, the former Academy graduate last week putting pen to paper on a two-year contract extension that will see him remain until at least June 2019.
“Munster is where I grew up. I have played all my rugby here. I am really enjoying it so far and especially this season,” O’Mahony said.
“It was a no-brainer for me. This is where I want to play my rugby. I am loving it at the moment.”
The enjoyment stems from an extended run in the Munster back three, from where the Limerick man has scored nine tries in 20 games this season, seven of them in the Guinness PRO12, where he also leads the team for metres gained, 711.
“I was coming off a development contract when I signed my first full pro contract. I felt if I got a bit of game time I could show my worth with Munster.
"Obviously, in my time involved here, there has been three or four different head coaches.
“It has been constantly changing and coaches have different preferences in terms of players they like. I said I would sign that two-year (contract, in 2015) and see how it went.
"I got a good bit of game-time and leading into this season and signing another two-year, I’m delighted.”
Yet with Keith Earls, Simon Zebo and Ireland’s newest international Andrew Conway all returning from championship duty ahead of the Champions Cup quarter-final at home to Toulouse on April 1, and Darren Sweetnam unlucky not to get a call due to injury, O’Mahony recognises he has to continue making an impact in the Munster back three.
That starts on Saturday in the PRO12 trip to bottom club Zebre, a game he recognises is something an audition for the European knockout game seven days later.
“You want to give Rassie a headache as regards selection, definitely.
"With Toulouse next week and Zebre this week, there are a couple of spots still up for grabs and this is the last chance for fellas to say ‘this is why I should be selected’ and give him a good headache for next week.
"It’s massive (the competition). You have Earlsy, Zeebs, Andy now is an international as well, Darren Sweets and myself.
"The competition is huge but it makes us all better players. At training we are all feeding off each other. When you see a fella doing so well and you know that international stage is so close, you keep pushing.
"We compliment each other, everyone brings different attributes, their own game, it has been very good so far.”
Not that O’Mahony is taking Zebre lightly, particularly on home soil in Parma.
“We are not going to underestimate Zebre. Jeez, we only got away by the skin of our teeth over there last season (winning 16-12 in January 2016). I think it was a drop goal (from Ian Keatley) in the last few minutes that won it for us.
“That is the danger. If you look one game ahead, you will take your eyes off the opposition in front of you. All we are doing is really focusing on Zebre this weekend and we will keep building then for Toulouse.”
Seeing team-mate Conway earn his first cap off the bench in last Saturday’s Six Nations victory over England has shown O’Mahony that good form can be rewarded by an international call-up and playing for Ireland remains a burning ambition.
That could be realised this summer as many of Joe Schmidt’s frontliners seemed destined to tour with the British & Irish Lions to New Zealand, opening up opportunities for Test hopefuls to go on Ireland’s tour to America and then Japan.
“Absolutely, yeah, it is something that when you are growing up you see lads playing for Munster and Ireland and it is something you want to do,” O’Mahony said. “It is a natural pathway. It is 100% there.
“I need to keep focusing on my game. It doesn’t feel like it is a million miles away, especially with Earlsy, Zeebs, Andy now, myself and Sweets, hopefully it is just around the corner the international stage, but you just have to keep focused on your own job at the moment, keep playing well, keep feeding off each other, really. Performing well for Munster is the main thing.”
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