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17th Jun 2018

Analysis: Peter O’Mahony’s breakdown masterclass

Jack O'Toole

Ireland captain Peter O’Mahony was a menace at the breakdown in the second Test win over Australia in Melbourne.

Australian flankers David Pocock and Michael Hooper both terrorised Irish ball in their first Test win in Brisbane last weekend, and while Pocock still managed to pinch two turnovers in the second Test at AAMI Park on Saturday, Ireland did a much better job at nullifying the Australian backrow.

The tourists once again dominated possession as they bullied the Wallabies around the park but Joe Schmidt’s side also did a much better job of pinching Australian ball in defence.

Jordi Murphy forced a nice steal in the second-half but O’Mahony in particular was excellent at locating the ball and getting himself in a strong position to contest the possession.

The Munster flanker has shown an ability to pilfer opposition ball throughout his career but the second Test win over Australia was one of the finest performances he’s had at the breakdown.

It took the Ireland skipper just over 15 minutes to win his first turnover but watch how he waits for Australian number eight Caleb Timu to hit the ground before immediately getting himself over the ball, spreading his legs apart to create a strong base and then getting two hands on the ball for the poach.

O’Mahony gets his shoulders low and Wallabies hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa is unable to get underneath him as he wins his side a penalty for Timu’s failure to release the ball.

For his second turnover below we can see that O’Mahony plays the role of the tackler in this instance but he once again adopts the same attitude.

He uses his arms to assist Tadhg Furlong in the tackle, he shows he has released the ball carrier by dragging his arms away from Hooper before once again spreading his legs and latching onto the ball.

Wallabies fly-half Bernard Foley and winger Dane Haylett-Petty react quickly to threat of the poach but O’Mahony is in a good position and once again forces the penalty, much to the delight of Ireland teammate Cian Healy.

O’Mahony’s third turnover just before the hour mark is probably his most impressive steal of the three.

On the first two pilfers we can see that he starts his entry by facing the ball carrier before powering through the gate of the ruck and latching onto the ball.

However, on his third steal just before the hour mark we see O’Mahony show good footwork to transition from slide defence to a position where he can challenge for the ball.

Once he adjusts his feet he then latches onto Koroibete just after he hits the ground and once again establishes a strong base where Israel Folau, Haylett-Petty nor Pocock can shift him off the ball.

Former Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris said that he was fantastic in the win and that he was more effective at the breakdown than Pocock.

“He was tremendous, just so physical around the breakdown,” said Ferris on Sky Sports’ post-match show.

“He kind of ‘out-Pococked’ Pocock on the day. I think it was three turnovers, three penalties by Peter O’Mahony.

“He’s the captain of the team. He led from the front. He might not be this really natural athlete getting across the gainline and making huge big carries but he brings experience, he brings a lot of leadership in the crucial times that we talk about and he was right in the middle of them today.

“I thought he was absolutely fantastic and he’s one of the big players in this Irish team.”

As for Pocock, he still won two critical turnovers in the Australian 22 with Ireland pressing towards the Wallabies line but the visitors did a much better job at targeting him and Hooper at the breakdown.

The first thing to notice here is just how aware the Irish players are at identifying whenever Pocock is hovering around the ruck.

He’s undoubtedly Australia’s biggest threat over the ball and here we can see Dan Leavy, Robbie Henshaw and Jordan Larmour all accelerate into the ruck as soon as they notice he’s near.

Pocock doesn’t actually contest in this instance but it’s a good example of the amount of numbers Ireland are willing to commit and the speed at which they enter the contact area.

A few minutes later when Pocock does attempt to poach the ball we can see both James Ryan and Cian Healy accelerate towards him with Devin Toner also standing over the ruck to provide some extra reinforcement.

Even when he was able to get in good position over the ball the Irish clean outs were so accurate and powerful that they were still able to shift him.

Here we can see Tadhg Furlong and Rob Kearney both barrel into him before knocking him off the ball in a clean out Kearney noted after the match as ‘the greatest clean out he’s ever seen’.

“He’s changing the role of tighthead props across the world,” said the Ireland full-back.

“There was one cleanout on [David] Pocock in the second-half that was the greatest cleanout I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a few cleanouts in my time.”

Ireland once again controlled possession and territory in Melbourne but nullifying the threat of Hooper and Pocock remains absolutely essential in ensuring that they can continue to enjoy that advantage in Sydney.

The third Test decider at Allianz Stadium next weekend promises to be another fascinating contest if the first two Tests are anything to go by but Ireland will have to continue their consistency at attacking the breakdown if they are to maintain their stranglehold of the ball.

It’s not always pretty, but with 13 wins from their last 14 games, it’s often a devastatingly effective brand of rugby as the Wallabies found out on Saturday.

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