Peter O’Mahony cannot even begin to imagine capping the biggest week of his career with the RBS Six Nations trophy.
The fit-again Munster captain admits it is impossible to ignore the pressure ahead of Ireland’s Six Nations title decider against France in Paris today.
The 24-year-old said he could not watch when Ronan O’Gara dropped the goal which gave Ireland their first Grand Slam since 1948, against Wales in Cardiff in 2009. The combative loose forward had just returned to Ireland from under-20s Six Nations duty, and remembers watching through his fingers at Leinster stand-off Ian Madigan’s house. Half a decade on O’Mahony struggles to contemplate his potential role in history, as Ireland chase just a third win in 42 years in France.
“I don’t think I could explain what it would mean, no,” said O’Mahony. “In 2009, we’d just come back from our own Six Nations game, and we watched the game at Ian Madigan’s house. I remember I couldn’t watch for the last kick, because it meant so much to everyone, so you definitely remember where you were for that one.
“Of course the importance comes through, you feel the pressure. Without any doubt, this is the biggest week of my career so far. You’re certainly putting pressure on yourself, trying to turn it to your favour and use it as motivation.
“Since you’re small, you want to play in games like this for trophies, it’s the reason the game is so great, to compete for these sorts of trophies. Then you’ve got to try to stay away from the pressure side of things, and not listen to any of the talk about it.”
Ireland are confident of breaking their long-running Paris hoodoo as Brian O’Driscoll makes his 141st and final Test appearance. O’Mahony said Ireland will hope routine and reason can help them shrug off the intimidation factor that always creates a daunting Paris atmosphere.
“It’s just such a tough place to come and play,” said O’Mahony. “The French are hugely passionate and a hugely able team and, when they’re at home, they’re even stronger again. It’s a very intimidating place to come and play, it’s one of the toughest stadiums to come and get a win.”
O’Driscoll and Ireland have fought desperately this week to fend off talk of the iconic centre ending his international career in fairytale style with a second Six Nations title.
O’Mahony echoed that sentiment but vowed not to let it unhinge Ireland’s steely focus. “It would be great for Brian, but I think everyone has enough to worry about, about their own jobs,” said O’Mahony. “It’s such a big week for everyone, you have to make sure you’ve got your own things right. It is an important week for Brian obviously, and it would be great to help him finish on a high, but I’ve got to worry about myself, to be honest.”
O’Driscoll, Ireland’s record try scorer, who has also led his country a record 83 times – more than twice as often as anyone else – bid an emotional farewell to home fans last week when he contributed another man-of-the-match performance to put his side one win away from only their second title in 29 years.
A first victory in Paris since the four-time British and Irish Lion’s heroics 14 years ago is the requirement, the kind of final act that could not be more appropriate.
In the French camp, captain Pascal Pape insists that France care more about finishing their RBS Six Nations campaign in style than silencing the critics.
The Stade Francais lock shrugged off the constant stream of media criticism against coach Philippe Saint-Andre’s pragmatic approach. France laboured to a 19-17 win over Scotland at Murrayfield last weekend, struggling at both scrum and lineout.
France can still steal the Six Nations crown, and Pape has called on his side to rediscover their trademark finesse. “We are far more focused on our performance than what is being said about us,” said the 33-year-old lock.
“There have been good things in this tournament, do not question everything. We will be very motivated before 80,000 fans who, themselves, will support us.
“We have confidence in ourselves; we know we can do it. We want to finish in style. We will try to refine our performance.”