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O’Mahony: We’re Always About Looking Forward And Getting Better

O’Mahony: We’re Always About Looking Forward And Getting Better

Peter O'Mahony, Ireland's newly-announced captain, is pictured during the Guinness Six Nations launch at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin ©INPHO/Ben Brady

Peter O’Mahony believes Ireland can turn their Rugby World Cup lessons into ‘a bit of a positive for ourselves to kick on’ during the opening rounds of the Guinness Six Nations.

Just over three-and-a-half months on from their World Cup quarter-final defeat to New Zealand, Ireland will return to action against France on Friday week as they begin their Six Nations title defence at Marseille’s Stade Vélodrome.

The newly-announced Ireland captain, O’Mahony acknowledged that he has ‘big boots to fill’ following Jonathan Sexton’s retirement, but is excited to lead a squad ‘bursting with big personalities and quality rugby players’.

“Johnny is Johnny, you don’t really replace someone like him,” he said, speaking at Monday’s Guinness Six Nations launch in Dublin. “But at the same time, the guys who have been in the squad, it’s an incredible exciting group of people, a talented group.

“And on the leadership side, we’ve always relied very heavily on a group of players, not just one person. That certainly won’t change. We’ve added to that group over time. Over the last few years it’s got bigger and bigger.

“People have stepped up into proper leadership roles, there’s a good cluster of them now. They’re hugely important from a leadership standpoint.”

It has been a short run-up in terms of game-time for the Corkman, who has only lined out three times for Munster since the World Cup, but he played over 60 minutes against both Toulon and Northampton Saints and has admittedly ‘come through fine’.

O’Mahony captained Munster for over 10 years, his tenure ending this season with his decision to step down from the role. He led the British & Irish Lions for their first Test against New Zealand in 2017, and has also skippered Ireland on ten occasions.

Long marked out as a natural leader having captained PBC Cork and the Ireland Under-18s and Under-20s, the 34-year-old flanker was delighted to receive an ‘unexpected but special’ phone call from Ireland head coach Andy Farrell on the Monday evening after the recent Toulon game.

“Hugely honoured (to be chosen as captain). It was a very nice phone call to get, to be honest. It’s not everyday you pick up the phone to your head coach and he asks you to captain your country.

“Hugely honoured, along with my family. Put in a lot of hard work, sacrificed a lot, me being away from home for long periods. For them obviously it’s a huge honour and occasion as well. Thrilled to bits, really.”

Despite a shoulder injury curtailing his involvement so far this season, O’Mahony enjoyed being ‘back into the groove’ with Munster following the World Cup, and is looking forward to getting the most out of Ireland’s first camp of 2024, which includes some warm-weather training in Portugal.

“It’s a group of people who are good people, and who I absolutely love spending time with, training with, and competing at the highest level with,” he said of his Ireland team-mates.

Farrell’s charges come into the Six Nations with an obvious target on their backs, as reigning champions. No team has retained the Championship since England in 2017, while O’Mahony was part of the Ireland squad that secured back-to-back title wins in 2014 and 2015.

Asked where he feels the current side are at just a few months from the World Cup, he replied: “Obviously it was a disappointment, the World Cup. I think that’s something that we’re going to have to acknowledge. You know this team is always about looking forward and getting better.

“I think if we can take our lessons and learnings and turn them into a bit of a positive for ourselves to kick on over the next few weeks, get ahead of the game. That’s the plan.

You’ve got a decision to make. You can feel sorry for yourself or, as I said, you use it as motivation and you use it as a learning tool and you get better from it.

“This game moves on quick, and life moves on quick. This team has got to get ahead of that, and as I said, acknowledge it but use it as motivation and get better as a squad.

“In sport there’s ups and downs. The downs are the days you remember, but they are the ones that stand to you when you go and do important things and go and win trophies.

“They’re the memories that you need to bank, for that bit of hurt to make you want it more. I’ve no doubt that with the group of people that I’m around, we’ll do exactly that.”

Retired duo Sexton and Keith Earls are the main absentees in Ireland’s 34-man Six Nations squad, while injuries have unfortunately ruled out Mack Hansen (shoulder), Dave Kilcoyne (shoulder), Jimmy O’Brien (neck), and Rob Herring (elbow).

There is still a very experienced spine to the group, with O’Mahony, Cian Healy, and Conor Murray the three centurions still involved, and eight other players having passed the 50-cap mark, including World Cup star Bundee Aki most recently.

Harry Byrne, Ciaran Frawley, Calvin Nash, Jeremy Loughman, Joe McCarthy, Tom Stewart and Nick Timoney are all pressing for their Six Nations debuts, while wingers Jordan Larmour and Jacob Stockdale could make their first Championship appearances since 2021.

O’Mahony insists that Ireland’s Grand Slam heroics from last spring will count for little when the teams renew rivalries over the first weekend of Friday. Getting off to a winning start is a challenge he is clearly relishing.

“Last year is last year and that’s done now. New campaign, a bit of a new group while being quite similar at the same time.

“I’m not going to stand here and say we’re not looking to win and go back-to-back. Obviously we’re all here (at the tournament launch), all the captains and coaches are here because we all want to win.

“When you’re talking about winning Championships, it’s important certainly to start with a win and continue winning. The first game is really important with regards to momentum and everything that goes with it.

“What an occasion it’s going to be, away in France first one up. What a challenge it’s going to be also,” he added.