Rugby

Ireland-France clash not a Six Nations title decider, says Peter O’Mahony

Andy Farrell’s men will take to the field in Marseille as reigning Grand Slam champions.

Peter O’Mahony replaced the retired Johnny Sexton as Ireland captain
Peter O’Mahony Peter O’Mahony replaced the retired Johnny Sexton as Ireland captain (David Davies/PA)

New Ireland skipper Peter O’Mahony has dismissed suggestions Friday’s “colossal” Guinness Six Nations curtain-raiser against France will be an early title decider.

Andy Farrell’s men will run out in Marseille as reigning Grand Slam champions on the back of a decisive 32-19 round-two win over the French last February in Dublin.

Les Bleus, who are the pre-tournament favourites this year, completed a championship clean sweep in 2022 following a crucial 30-24 victory over Ireland in Paris.

Ireland are reigning Grand Slam champions
Ireland are reigning Grand Slam champions Ireland are reigning Grand Slam champions (Brian Lawless/PA)

Munster flanker O’Mahony, who has taken the captaincy from the retired Johnny Sexton, played down talk of silverware once again being decided by the fixture ahead of a mouth-watering opening evening at Stade Velodrome.

“I don’t know about that,” he told a press conference.

“It’s the first one up for us, first one up for them. In this competition, every game is colossal and that’s an understatement.

“Both of us are out there tomorrow to win the game, set ourselves up with some momentum for the rest of the campaign.

“Every opportunity you get to play for Ireland is huge, but this one seems particularly special… to continue our journey on.

“What a place to do it, what a stadium… what a place to play rugby.”

Ireland and France are both on the rebound from agonising quarter-final exits at the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Head coach Farrell has made three enforced changes from the 28-24 last-eight loss to New Zealand on October 14, with fly-half Jack Crowley, wing Calvin Nash and centre Robbie Henshaw coming in for the departed Sexton and injured pair Mack Hansen and Garry Ringrose.

Meanwhile, 22-year-old lock Joe McCarthy has been preferred to James Ryan and Iain Henderson in the other alteration to the starting XV.

O’Mahony insists the team are looking forward, rather than attempting to make up for disappointment suffered at the hands of the All Blacks.

“We’re not trying to prove a point to ourselves about what happened,” he said.

“We’re trying to prove to ourselves in performance, where the scene is at, where we want to go, setting up momentum.

“It’s not about putting things right or whatever. It’s about a Test match tomorrow night. That’s what the occasion is, it’s the most important thing for us.

“And performance is absolutely paramount. That’s what everyone is here to do, be the best version of themselves. That’s what we’re trying to do for Ireland.”

O’Mahony has captained Ireland on a number of previous occasions but will lead his country for the first time as permanent skipper.

The 34-year-old believes he and his team-mates all learnt from his predecessor Sexton.

Peter O’Mahony, left, and Johnny Sexton, right, were long-time international team-mates
Peter O’Mahony, left, and Johnny Sexton, right, were long-term international team-mates Peter O’Mahony, left, and Johnny Sexton, right, were long-time international team-mates (Brian Lawless/PA)

“I had a good chat with him a few weeks ago and he’s in good form, I can report,” O’Mahony said.

“I’d be shocked if you asked anybody in that dressing room who’s played with Johnny if they hadn’t picked up something from him.

“It’s kind of what the game’s about, it’s learning and being diligent and picking stuff up from guys who’ve figured it out and he was certainly one of them.”