Liam Toland: "There's no doubt in my mind we need to start Peter O'Mahony"

He also spoke about honouring Anthony Foley at the Ireland-England legends match at the RDS this Friday

BY Simon Maguire 09:00 Tuesday 14 March 2017, 9:00 14 Mar 2017

Peter O'Mahony. Image: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Former Munster and Leinster player Liam Toland believes starting Peter O'Mahony could be the key to beating England at the Aviva Stadium this weekend.

Speaking to Newstalk.com, he highlighted Ireland's problems at crucial times against Wales which led to our downfall. "Going into the game I felt Ireland had a very strong chance of winning the game," he said, adding "I was conscious that Wales were obviously playing for Lions places and pride and at home they're a very difficult outfit to beat. There was no taking it for granted but at the same time as the game evolved I felt that Ireland had the winning of the game albeit in very very minor margins. 

"But, when you look at the line-out, I just felt we had more in our line-out to create problems and yet, Justin Tipuric, who was probably one of the smallest forwards on the pitch, provided a massive platform for Wales and obviously, through the brains of Alun Wyn Jones as well."

Noting Ireland's progress since our current head coach took charge, Toland said: "We've come along way in the few years with Joe Schmidt and obviously the highlight of the November series and just to see all the other nations catching up with us and being able to read what we are throwing at them and us not being able to impose our game with its limitations and strengths, it was disappointing.

Ireland's Jonathan Sexton, Rory Best and Conor Murray dejected after the game. Image: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

"It wasn't helped of course with Johnny Sexton going off injured with the head injury and then being sin-binned. Conor Murray was a huge talking point - the length of time he stayed on carrying the injuries in that sense. So it was a disappointing performance, no one took it for granted but it did feel looking back on it we could have and should have won that game."

Looking at our opponents this weekend and asked whether England were really as good as the 61-21 scoreline suggests or if Scotland never recovered from the early sin-binning he said: "If I was guilty of getting it slightly wrong in terms of the result of the Ireland-Wales game, I certainly felt that England were going to put a good score on Scotland. Just when I saw the team sheet that England had picked with Courtney Lawes in the second row, their back-row are just so powerful particularly their blindside, Itoje, he was off the charts in what he performed.

"They don't really have a weakness as such. For me, it's about the confidence of that English side - have they realistic, proper, elite confidence that will get them motoring. I felt that all things fell into place for them against Scotland. 

England’s Mako Vunipola is tackled by Scotland’s Cornell Du Preez. Image: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland 

"Scotland, of course, were hammered with injuries particularly at full-back when Stuart Hogg went off injured and that played into England's hands. The fact that they were almost laughed at after the Italian game, I just felt that when I saw the team sheet that Eddie Jones had selected and there was no doubt that they would have gotten some horse-whipping, if you like, in the time between Italy and Scotland.

"They have so much power. We saw it in Joseph in the outside centre. Again the line-out for me is another talking point. I think all their tries were scored pretty much off the line-out which pretty much shows the importance of it and it shows what Ireland have to do this week in order to prepare for them.

"I wasn't surprised by their performance. I felt that they got the right amount of confidence, the right edge, the right physicality and they certainly picked a side. And then when you look at their bench, the Vunipola brothers for example, coming on - I would have always said of the English number eight, Billy Vunipola coming back from a knee injury, if you could stop him, you could stop England," he added. 

Looking ahead to the make-up of the Irish back-row this weekend, he said: "There's no doubt in my mind that we need to start with Peter O'Mahony. I think for many reasons. I think an added line-out option is a hugely significant one. I think that Rory Best as hooker - his line-out stats are very impressive but there are times when the line-out management and the execution of that management fall a bit short when real pressure scenarios come and Wales picked and chose when they wanted to attack that Rory Best throw.

"They were very clever when they attacked that. I think Peter O'Mahony gives you another option but it also gives you a sense of leadership and brains.

Peter O'Mahony. Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

"As abrasive as he is and he's a very physical in-your-face type of player. His work around the breakdown is fantastic as well as a jackal and his general work-rate is phenomenal but I think the sense of calm and leadership he might bring would be of huge benefit to Rory Best as well.

"The first name I'd have in the pack would be Peter O'Mahony...I think that Sean O'Brien should be picked at seven. There's a huge argument around CJ Stander and Jamie Heaslip...I would probably start with Peter O'Mahony at six, Sean O'Brien at seven and Jamie Heaslip at eight and I'd have CJ Stander coming on as a really powerful impact player. 

"The danger in framing it like this is that someone has been dropped and I don't look at it that way. I think that Irish rugby and professional rugby has gone to a stage where we need to look at the 23 plus players for every single game and pick the ideally suited players.  

As for a prediction, Toland said: "I think we will have a vastly improved performance physically because of what's at stake. I think we have a very strong chance of winning. That said, we have to wait for the team sheets and it looks like Billy Vunipola night be starting at number eight, they just have so much power so we're hoping that they come with that degree of cockiness and we can just chop them down but I would have to put England as favourites."

On a lighter note, the Ireland v England legends charity match is taking place this Friday at the RDS. The fixture has been ongoing since 2008 and has raised hundreds of thousands for the injured players fund and Toland said: "Well for a start it's an amazing event. The players from England and Ireland have come together in an informal way and it has grown and grown. 

Ireland's Liam Toland tackled during the Ireland-England legends match in 2011. Image: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

"Since it has started, we've actually raised over €500,000 for charity, predominantly for the injured players fund in England and the injured players fund in Ireland but there's no massive big formula to it - players literally volunteer and come along. 

"In this case we have the honour of welcoming our English counterparts to the RDS this Friday at six o'clock and it carries a very, very special tone this year because Anthony Foley who left us a few short months ago, he has played in this fixture many, many times.

"In fact, I had the pleasure of rooming with him on a classic Lions tour in Australia and what a phenomenal gentleman, a phenomenal friend and a phenomenal rugby player - so we're honouring him as well. We're playing for Axel, we're remembering him.

"Once word of that got out an awful lot of players were coming out of the woodwork that kind of had been hiding away with old injuries and other stuff so we hope to see Paul O'Connell, we hope to see Ronan O'Gara and Gordon D'Arcy, Mick Galway, Shane Byrne -  an awful lot of the big old names as well. A lot of the Munster guys are coming out as well - Anthony Horgan, Alan Quinlan.

"What's really interesting this time out is that when word got out about what we were trying to do, a lot of the English players came out of the woodwork too because that all want to be part of what will be a very special occasion. 

"My understanding is that there's about seven and a half or eight thousand tickets sold which is phenomenal considering it's Paddy's Day and it's the big weekend but we are really looking forward to it. It's going to be televised. It's going to have a real carnival atmosphere and for those that will be coming along, you can get access to tickets on ticketmaster and it may be the very last time you'll see some of these greats kicking a ball around."

Anyone interested in heading along to the RDS on Friday can purchase tickets here.

 

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