Peter O’Mahony has admitted to a “fear factor” in the Ireland camp ahead of the clash with England on Saturday, especially having watched the way Eddie Jones’s team destroyed Scotland last weekend.
But the Munster flanker, who has been backed for a recall to Joe Schmidt’s starting XV this weekend, insisted Ireland were capable of beating any team in the world on their day, pointing out it was only four months ago they were being lauded for beating the All Blacks and Australia, and arguing it was “the smallest of margins” between success and failure at this level.
Ireland fans breathed a sigh of relief on Monday after it was confirmed that both of their influential half-backs, Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray, had been passed fit to face England after picking up knocks in the defeat by Wales last Friday.
Sexton has passed concussion protocols, while Murray has shaken off the ‘stinger’ he suffered following a tackle on George North.
There was less positive news concerning winger Tommy Bowe, who has been ruled out with a suspected fracture to his leg. But the influential Jared Payne is fit again and could well come in for Garry Ringrose at 13 with Ireland’s back division missing a worrying number of tackles against Wales.
Whoever plays, O’Mahony admitted Ireland had their work cut out against an England team chasing back-to-back Grand Slams and a world-record 19th consecutive win.
“Of course there is,” he said when asked if there was a ‘fear factor’ involved this weekend. “Has to be. You want to win at home at all costs and there is a huge amount at stake for us. Obviously they’re coming over to win the Grand Slam. They are going for 19 games in a row. They’ve gone to Australia, won three out of three.
“There have been sides that have been able to put pressure on them. But they’ve come out on the other side of games they’ve been really tested in.
“It is very hard to argue with the fact they are up there competing with New Zealand for the top slot of the best team in the world.”
O’Mahony insisted, however, that it would be mad to make wholesale changes on the basis of losing in Scotland and Wales in this Championship. “You can’t, just because you’ve lost two games or because of the Wales game, throw the toys out and say ‘we need to change this or that’,” he said. “If anything you’ve got to pull it in tighter and drive on, you know?
“Four months ago [after beating the All Blacks and Australia] we would be having a different conversation here. It’s not a completely different group. We haven’t changed the game plan in any way.
“We know how good we can be and how good we are. It is just we need to figure out a way to just finish that last per cent to get back there.”
O’Mahony could be that one per cent although it is difficult to see where he slots in with CJ Stander arguably Ireland’s player of the tournament and No 8 Jamie Heaslip favoured by Schmidt.
Heaslip could be dropped to the bench with Stander going to No 8, or Schmidt could even be tempted to try O’Mahony on the openside. Either way, O’Mahony said it would be difficult to compete with England’s back five in the scrum, with Maro Itoje improving at six, Billy Vunipola back at No 8 and the second row of Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes in fine form.
“It is very hard to pick out a weakness in their team,” he said. “[Itoje] has been one of the best players in the world, maybe the last 18 months, two years, I certainly don’t think him playing No 6 over second-row weakens them in any way. If anything it makes them stronger.”