Injury permitting, Peter O’Mahony will be lining out at the Yokohama Stadium for Ireland’s opening game of the World Cup against Scotland on September 22.
But he already has experience of playing at a World Cup in Japan when he captained the Ireland U20 side which travelled to the country for the 2009 IRB Junior World Championship.
10 years have passed between that 2009 underage competition and the upcoming World Cup but there are some familiar faces among the two squads.
O’Mahony, Dave Kearney, Rhys Ruddock, Conor Murray and Jack McGrath, who all featured in Japan a decade ago, are currently in Joe Schmidt’s 43-man squad for the 2019 showpiece event.
“I was a bit immature and naive at the time,” O’Mahony said as he was revealed as an M&S Irish sports ambassador.
“I probably didn’t take it all on board, the culture side of it and how exciting that’s going to be. Hopefully, you get another shot and do a bit better than what we finished up there.”
O’Mahony isn’t joking when he says he hopes to have a better experience this time around.
His side finished in eighth back in 2009, losing their fifth-place playoff semi-final to Wales as a young Justin Tipuric try helped secure a win for the Welsh before losing the seventh-placed final to Tonga.
You could probably equate that eighth-placed finish to a quarter-final exit at a senior World Cup and of course, Ireland have never broken the quarter-final barrier in their eight World Cup appearances to date.
Are Ireland better equipped now to finally reach the last four? O’Mahony hopes the high level of experience within the current squad will be enough to reach the semi-finals.
“There’s plenty of guys who have a bit more experience now. It’s different with every squad and there was guys who were very experienced in the last one (2015) as well, but we have a good bulk of guys who have been together for a long, long time now and who have a lot of experience.
“Hopefully, that can stand to whoever gets the honour to go and decipher their way through all the different hurdles that we’re going to encounter over there. You’d like to think that will stand to you.”
Ireland have reached significant milestones since that 2015 tournament; a first win against the Springboks on South African soil, a third Grand Slam, a series win against the Wallabies in Australia and two wins against the All Blacks.
All those experiences came with a high level of pressure but a World Cup is different. It’s a pressure cooker. The eyes of the rugby world are focussed on your every move and O’Mahony puts it simply when summing it up – a World Cup is the “be-all and end-all”.
“I think it’s the excitement we generate ourselves, the excitement from the playing group to do the biggest thing you can do in the game. It’s the biggest competition you can do and to represent your country at the highest level, particularly with the group we have, it’s always special.
“The World Cup is the be-all and end-all for a rugby player. It’s very exciting.”
At the end of 2018, the World Cup picture looked so much different.
Ireland had just beaten the All Blacks to round off an unbeaten year to become one of the favourites. Steve Hansen’s side still looked formidable at the end of a long season despite that defeat. South Africa looked off the pace and their inconsistent form during the November internationals showcased that.
And then in 2019, Wales won the Grand Slam, England swatted aside the challenge of Ireland on the opening day of the Six Nations in Dublin, South Africa won the Rugby Championship and Australia handed down the joint largest-ever defeat on the All Blacks. As a result, this is looking to be one of the most open World Cups in history.
There are so many teams who have the capability of lifting the Webb Ellis Cup on November 2 in Yokohama and this is how O’Mahony views it. It adds to the overall excitement of the six-week tournament but he is also keen to stress that the next few weeks will be crucial to Ireland’s fortunes.
“I think a lot of countries could say that (win the World Cup) at the moment. Looking at the Rugby Championship, looking at Wales, lots of northern hemisphere teams – they can probably all say the same thing which is probably rare enough of any World Cup.
“It shows how competitive it’s going to be over there. We’ll have to wait and see. These next few weeks are massively important for us. There’s talk of the Rugby Championship being the right way to lead in, we’re playing a team (Wales) who could have potentially gone number one over the weekend and England is the other team, how good the pair of them are.
“It doesn’t get any more difficult than that really to lead us into it. It’s great preparation for us. It’s a great thing to be able to focus the mind on. Obviously, the World Cup is a distraction and there are lots of distractions but we have to play England in Twickenham in two weeks’ time and we’ve got to get ourselves ready for that.”
To celebrate 40 years in Ireland Marks & Spencer has today revealed its first Irish sports ambassador, rugby player Peter O’Mahony.