Peter O’Mahony will captain Ireland in their defence of the Six Nations with head coach Andy Farrell saying on Wednesday that the veteran loose forward is a “born leader”.
O’Mahony, 34, steps into the huge vacuum left by Johnny Sexton, who retired after Ireland lost to New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup quarter-final last October.
The Munster star has skippered Ireland on 10 previous occasions, though, it had been thought that the younger James Ryan was being groomed to be the long-term captain.
O’Mahony faces a real humdinger of a first match of his reign facing 2022 Grand Slam winners France in Marseille on 2 February.
“To our new captain Peter O’Mahony, he is a born leader and someone who has been an influential figure for Munster and Ireland for many years,” said Farrell in an Irish Rugby statement.
“I am confident that the squad will continue to benefit from his leadership skills, both on and off the field. He is thoroughly deserving of this honour.”
O’Mahony, who will need to maintain the form he showed at the World Cup as the Irish are rich in backrow talent, was ecstatic at the appointment.
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“Ever since I was a boy starting off in the game, I have always dreamed of captaining Ireland,” the 101-Test O’Mahony said.
“I have been asked to lead Ireland on a number of occasions previously, and each of those 10 matches were special days.
“To be now asked to captain Ireland ahead of the Six Nations is without doubt one of the proudest moments of my life and I would like to thank Andy for this show of faith in me.”
Sexton’s retirement also opens up the flyhalf spot which he dominated for more than a decade.
Jack Crowley may hold the strongest hand, the 24-year-old having impressed at the World Cup but Farrell has also picked Leinster teammates Harry Byrne and Ciaran Frawley.
Byrne’s older brother Ross is unavailable through injury and Crowley’s Munster clubmate Joey Carbery has been linked with a move to France.
A fourth flyhalf in 20-year-old Sam Prendergast will be a training partner during the campaign along with prop Oli Jager and lock Thomas Ahern.
Farrell must also cope without livewire wing Mack Hansen and utility back Jimmy O’Brien for the entirety of the tournament.
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Jacob Stockdale, who has barely featured since the 2019 World Cup, Calvin Nash and Jordan Larmour will vie for Hansen’s spot.
Injury to Dave Kilcoyne has extended 36-year-old prop Cian Healy’s involvement in the squad. His 125-Test career looked over when he missed the World Cup because of injury.
Farrell, who was named World Rugby Coach of the Year for 2023, said the squad was in good shape and the tournament would be a good test for them as they begin the post Sexton era.
It will also be Farrell’s last Six Nations for a couple of years, as head coach of the British & Irish Lions he will be preparing for their 2025 tour of Australia.
“The forthcoming Six Nations presents an opportunity for us to grow and develop,” said Farrell.
“The Six Nations is one of the biggest stages in world rugby and this year’s competition will be keenly fought.
“It doesn’t get much tougher than France away in the opening weekend, but it is a challenge that we will approach in a positive frame of mind.”
Full Ireland squad – Forwards: Ryan Baird, Finlay Bealham, Tadhg Beirne, Jack Conan, Caelan Doris, Tadhg Furlong, Cian Healy, Iain Henderson, Ronan Kelleher, Jeremy Loughman, Joe McCarthy, Peter O’Mahony (c) Tom O’Toole, Andrew Porter, James Ryan, Dan Sheehan, Tom Stewart, Nick Timoney, Josh van der Flier. Backs: Bundee Aki, Harry Byrne, Craig Casey, Jack Crowley, Ciaran Frawley, Jamison Gibson-Park, Robbie Henshaw, Hugo Keenan, Jordan Larmour, James Lowe, Stuart McCloskey, Conor Murray, Calvin Nash, Garry Ringrose, Jacob Stockdale.
© Agence France-Presse