Flanker Peter O’Mahony singled out captain Paul O’Connell and Sean O’Brien for special praise after Ireland made history in winning back-to-back RBS 6 Nations titles for the first time since 1948-1949.
It is easy to forget that Peter O’Mahony’s international career is just three years old. Since making his debut against Italy in February 2012, he has only missed one RBS 6 Nations fixture – against Italy last year due to injury – and is seemingly growing in influence and stature with each passing game.
The Corkman is building a stellar Test rugby CV with two RBS 6 Nations titles already, a haul of 30 caps (26 starts) and the record of being Ireland’s youngest captain of the professional era (he led his country against the USA in June 2013, at the age of 23 years and 264 days).
O’Mahony had one of his best outings in the green jersey against Scotland, bursting into life as a ground-gaining carrier in the second half, beating four defenders, making one clean break and what about that brilliant aerial take?
Paul O’Connell started the scoring four minutes in on their way to a Championship winning performance at Murrayfield and this after having to bring the players back into camp after the disappointment in Cardiff a week previous.
He spoke to the squad last Tuesday, asking them to think about what they could still achieve in the tournament on their day off the following day before coming back into camp on Thursday. And 35 year-old O’Connell words had an impact as three days later they held the tournament trophy aloft in front of their own fans in Edinburgh.
“(Paul O’Connell) is pushing on alright. He’s an unbelievable guy to sit down next to the dressing room. I am lucky to have spent a lot of my professional career sitting next to him in the dressing room. Today again was another testament to what a big game player he is and the performances he puts in consistently is what he will be remembered for and an outstanding performance again.”
“He was very calm. He said what he always says. We needed to stick to our game plan today. Today of all days. Obviously there was a huge amount of talking around, all over the place on what we needed to do but we knew and he knew we needed to put in a performance this week.
While O’Mahony led the Irish tackle count at 13, he was also keen to praise fellow back row, Sean O’Brien, who was another stalwart for Joe Schmidt’s team. Putting in a brilliant performance, O’Brien made 13 carries for 76 metres and grabbed plaudits for his finishing as well.
Two of those carries ended in tries as the the Carlow man put in an incredible display in an Irish jersey, capping off his first tournament back after a 15 month lay-off. It was just another brilliant performance by another one of Ireland’s big name players, and O’Mahony feels the pride from what they have achieved will linger for some time.
“He (Sean O’Brien) is a class act, he’s an unbelievable guy to have alongside you. He’s a pain to be playing against and he was all that today. He was dynamic in his carry, he was good on defence with a couple of big tackles he put in. It was a complete performance from a class act.
“For me, it’s important at the end of a tournament to leave your jersey on the peg. Obviously, it’s going to be left there for a few months and we can leave it there proud. It was a proud performance from a great group of lads. We’ve trained really hard for the last eight weeks. There was a huge amount of pressure coming into this game, but we just focused on playing our game.”
In the end 10 points of a scoring difference separated Ireland from England and Wales. It was a position they may have no imagined a week previously after the disappointment which was felt throughout the camp after their defeat in Cardiff. They needed a professional response in putting the Grand Slam ending defeat behind them. And despite the focus was on putting in a performance against the Scots at Murrayfield, the permutations and points difference started to filter in from what Wales had done in Rome.
“There was a lot of talk about points difference, but we were playing against a very good Scotland side and we went out there with nothing other than just to win the game. As I said, I’m hugely proud of the performance we put in. I saw the score going in, 42-13, but that was the last I’d heard of it. Obviously we ended up getting the scoreline and at some stage we ended up hearing what we needed to do.
“But as I said, we needed to go out and win the game and put in a performance that would win the game, that’s what we did. We went in with a game plan obviously and we believe in it. We had to believe in it today, at the end of the day we were up against a very good side and we needed to win the game. I’m hugely proud of how the lads carried themselves.”