Is Peter O’Mahony the Irish captain in waiting?

O’Mahony gives timely reminder of innate leadership qualities

Peter O’Mahony’s explosive return to the Irish starting XV last week against the English was a blatant reminder of the quality of the Munster man.

After being ravaged with injury for the best part of 18 months since the World Cup O’Mahony was partly forgotten about in some Irish circles. Whilst he was injured a number of quality back rows emerged for Ireland such as Munster’s CJ Stander and Jack O’Donoghue as well as Josh Van Der Flier, Dan Leavy among others.

However Mahony fought back from injury to regain his form for Munster in the latter stages of 2016. Yet a small niggle picked up ruled him out of the opening three rounds of the Six Nations.

He was named as a replacement for the Welsh game in round 4 of the Championship in which he made an immediate impression upon introduction. After a dismal loss, there were many calls for his inclusion in the starting team to face England, yet Schmidt ignored these calls and named the same 3 back rows that had started the opening 4 games.

However, when Jamie Heaslip injured himself in the warm up, O’Mahony was thrust into the starting line up as a blindside flanker. O’Mahony would then go on to give one of the great 6 Nations display by an Irish man.

O’Mahony was strong in attack and defence, leading his team to a famous victory and denying the English an unprecedented 19th straight victory. The standout moment came in the final minutes as Mahony stole an English line out on Ireland’s 5m line to prevent a certain try.

Yet, this game from O’Mahony was not surprising to those who have watched him develop from an early age. He has always been a talented player. However, he has always been a leader also.

Paul O’Connell remarked how at a tender age O’Mahony was not afraid to make his point clear, even in the midst of experienced internationals. But he will also be the first to lead by example with his actions. This is something that makes Mahony stand apart.

He is a born winner. He will do anything to ensure the Red of Munster and the Green of Ireland come away with a win, often putting his body on the line. Tackling, carrying, passing, kicking, O’Mahony does the whole lot, and he does it well.

Credit must go to Rory Best who has performed exceptionally as Irish captain, bringing his own game to new heights, but also leading his side to a historic trio of wins in 2016, over the All-Black, Wallabies and Springboks. Best isn’t the sort of leader O’Mahony is though.

O’Mahony demands excellence on the pitch. If someone isn’t pulling their weight he will be the first on their case. Yet if someone is putting it all on the line for the team, he will be the first to applaud the effort. He is a captain without the armband for province and country.

One such example highlights this in the English game. Sean O’Brien after making a heavy tackle on an opponent laid on the ground after the challenge. O’Mahony beckoned him almost immediately to get to his feet to help fight the Irish cause.

Without hesitation O’Brien leapt to his country’s defence once more. O’Mahony’s instructions are never from a personal standpoint, they are for the good of the squad and the players acknowledge that, even the world class like O’Brien.

Saturday’s win highlights how important O’Mahony is to his country. His value will increase when he is eventually handed the captaincy. Whilst it may be premature as last weekend was his first start against a Tier 1 nation in 18 months, his leadership could be needed for the Lions tour this summer as he is unrivalled in such manner.

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