AN UNUSUAL SETTING for Ireland’s Monday press duty, and so a different room in the caverns of the Aviva Stadium to stage it in.
Peter O’Mahony landed in from the open training session into the astro-turfed warm-up room with socks just rolled down to his ankles, cloth clinging to his thighs for line-out drills and plenty of breath yet to be caught.
He sits down and needs to suck the oxygen in before starting to field questions. A rigorous hit-out so soon after a punishing Test match is not the norm, but everyone involved is happy to dig deep with the carrot of the rest of the week off dangled in front of them.
“We just said we would get a bit of work done early in the week to leave us have a few days off, return fresh and hit the ground Saturday,” said the Munster captain.
The day-early Saturday regathering of the squad this weekend comes because of the Friday night clash with Wales on 10 March. It’s a massive fixture, a chance to pile pressure on England in the chase for the Championship before their Calcutta Cup meeting with Scotland in Twickenham. Or, alternatively, a second defeat and the end of the title hopes for another year.
O’Mahony would dearly love to feature from the start and get his teeth into Wales. However, his injury troubles over the past 17 months have coincided with the rise of both CJ Stander and Josh van der Flier.
The latter is out of the picture with a shoulder injury, but the trio of Stander, Jamie Heaslip and Sean O’Brien have been a formidable block for Ireland.
“They are going alright to be fair to them,” O’Mahony says with a half smile, “playing well, it’s great. It has always been the way with both club and country, always having competition with great guys to learn off an play along side and train with, it has never been really different.
After a bit of gentle prodding, O’Mahony agrees that Stander is a clear front-runner to play for the Lions this summer. It’s obviously tough for the Munster skipper to play understudy to his provincial vice captain. Yet despite the intense competition between the two, neither have ever offered any hint of a rivalry that is more than healthy competition.
“CJ has grown every game he has played. He is obviously a fabulous athlete, super amount of fitness, physicality and has fitted in will with both Munster and Ireland. As you can see he is learning all the time.
‘So… do you want me at 6 or 8?’ Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
“He is pushing everyone on. He is leading the charge at the moment, he is adapting really well, he is great to be around, great team guy, we are very lucky to have a player of his calibre.”
Ideally, the Corkman would love the chance to pull on the red jersey for his province this weekend and build his fitness with match minutes. But with the southern province in Cardiff six days before Ireland play there, and the same time as the international squad are scheduled in Maynooth, there’s not much scope for Rassie Erasmus to to pick men who might be needed in Schmidt’s matchday squad.
So the 27-year-old is looking ahead to Wales and Wales only. The rest of Ireland is allowed to get giddy and think of the possibilities that come with facing England in a Championship decider, but having suffered his ACL injury in the Rugby World Cup he knows there is never much use in planning beyond the Millennium Stadium.