As recently as February of this year, the idea that Peter O’Mahony would be named in the British and Irish Lions squad was utterly absurd. Now, ahead of the first Test against the All Blacks, the Munster man has been named their captain.
Having suffered a horrific knee injury at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, the 27-year-old missed vast swathes of playing time in 2016 and only really returned to action earlier this year.
Unable to claim a starting place in Joe Schmidt’s Ireland side for the Six Nations, it was only an injury to Jamie Heaslip in the warm-up ahead of their final game against England that gave O’Mahony his opportunity.
With CJ Stander dropping back to No. 8, O’Mahony slotted in on the blindside and what followed was an absolute masterclass of pressure and control from Ireland, swatting down any notions of England’s superiority.
Such was O’Mahony’s performance that day that he was named by Warren Gatland a month later for the Lions tour. Presumed to be a potential ‘dirt tracker’ and support player, Gatland and his coaches clearly saw something in the Munster captain as he was named in the starting XV for the Lions assured victories over the Crusaders and the Maori All Blacks.
Talk of Test captaincy followed and on Wednesday it was confirmed. Throughout the tour, quotes, comments and sound bytes have emerged from the Lions camp extolling the leadership and work ethic of the man.
This is nothing new for the man from Cork. His tenacity and natural born leadership have been evident for years. Former Lion and England centre Will Greenwood famously wrote of O’Mahony back in 2015:
“If all the wild horsemen of the apocalypse came around the corner O’Mahony would charge straight back at them.”
Now, as he prepares to lead the Lions out at Eden Park to seek redemption for the 2005 drubbing they suffered last time around, coaches and rugby alumni appear unanimously ready to follow O’Mahony through the gates of hell, were he to but ask.
At the Lions team announcement, forwards coach Graham Roundtree offered high praise.
“He has that Paul O’Connell kind of DNA in him, being a Munster man.
“He is a good guy as well, very diligent, not afraid in training of saying, ‘Lads, this isn’t good enough’.
“I can’t speak highly enough of him. The lads respect his actions and want to follow him.”
Meanwhile, Lions alumni took to social media to praise the latest Test captain.
— Brian O'Driscoll (@BrianODriscoll) June 21, 2017
What an achievement for @peterom6 .Follows in the footsteps of greats like Johnston,O'Driscoll and O'Connell.
Cork will be rocking on Sat.
— Ronan O Gara (@RonanOGara10) June 21, 2017
Played together for 22 years,what a captain & player..well deserved #832 pic.twitter.com/RCsbxe7asl
— Simon Zebo (@SimonZebo) June 22, 2017
— Sir Clive Woodward (@CliveWoodward) June 21, 2017
As for fans, they were less measured and far more flamboyantly congratulatory.
If Earth was playing the aliens from Independence Day in a game of rugby for control of the planet I'd want Peter O'Mahony captaining.
— Three Red Kings (@threeredkings) June 21, 2017
When you're named to captain the #LionsNZ2017
Congratulations to @peterom6.
Well deserved. Incredible honour. pic.twitter.com/UYOrlwt35N
— The Loose Head (@TheLooseH) June 21, 2017
— John Joe Gallagher (@jjgallagher93) June 22, 2017
O’Mahony will lead his Lions out against New Zealand on Saturday, with the long-awaited first Test at Eden Park kicking off at 08:30 GMT.
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena
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