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Peter O'Mahony pictures the Irish making a big impact

Picture perfect: Peter O’Mahony takes a picture with fans at yesterday’s welcome ceremony
Picture perfect: Peter O’Mahony takes a picture with fans at yesterday’s welcome ceremony

By Cian Tracey

Peter O'Mahony doesn't exactly have fond memories of Tokyo. The extent of his previous experience of the city was a brief visit for a disciplinary hearing, and now, 10 years on, he returns to Japan looking to leave his mark in a more memorable fashion.

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In 2009, O'Mahony captained the Ireland Under-20s at the Junior World Cup, which was held in the Far East as a dry run for the big one this month.

That squad also included Conor Murray and Rhys Ruddock, and as the trio get a chance to tour Japan again, they will be hoping to fare better than the eighth-place finish that they managed in their under-age days.

Joe Schmidt's men touched down in Tokyo on Thursday and have spent the last couple of days acclimatising ahead of tomorrow week's opener against Scotland in Yokohama.

Many of the squad were involved in Ireland's summer tour two years ago, but for lots of the senior players, who were on Lions duty, this is their first time experiencing Japan and its vastly different culture.

Thousands of Barry's tea bags have been shipped over as the players were given the chance to have whatever home comforts they liked. Unfortunately for Tadhg Furlong, his request to bring Wexford potatoes was turned down.

Behind the scenes, the IRFU will be doing everything within their power to ensure that the players are looked after as well as possible.

"Look, it's so different over there," O'Mahony says, recalling his experience.

"There's a lot of concrete buildings, obviously the language barrier is serious. I love Japanese food but some guys struggle with it.

"They have a great way of life. I think their values are incredible. They have incredible respect for people, polite, very helpful, incredibly clean place.

"It was an incredible experience as I said, and I am expecting the exact same again, particularly with the World Cup.

"They are well able to put on a show and an event, so I would imagine it's going to be second to none."

Buying into the local culture will be key to ensuring the players are happy off the pitch as well as on it. Jacob Stockdale was honest enough to admit recently that he struggled to get to grips with it in the first few days back in 2017, and O'Mahony says that it's all about striking a balance.

"It's a hard balance to get. At the end of the day, we are there to do a job, but at the same time, it is the best part of rugby and you have to enjoy yourself. When you are doing your job, you need to be enjoying yourself as well," he says.

"Look, I think we are very good at getting out into the public and seeing the different places and getting to different communities and experiencing different things.

"You have to get that right as well, the down days - doing stuff that guys enjoy.

"The IRFU and the Irish rugby team are very good at those things and they are very important as well. There has been a huge amount of work done before now. We won't be arriving in the dark.

"All the background stuff has been looked after and we will be well looked after."

The weather will also be a huge factor. Typhoon Faxai battered the country earlier this week, which served as a reminder of how drastically different the conditions are going to be in Japan over the next six weeks.

For the 2009 Under-20s World Cup, which was played in June, O'Mahony and his team-mates played in searing heat.

"I remember the heat over there. We played Uruguay at lunch time and it was 42 degrees pitchside or something like that. It was stomach-churningly hot," he recalls.

"There were water breaks every 15 minutes. It was tough going.

"It's a different animal and this is going to be on a different level altogether. But I think you acclimatise when you get there.

"We'll be there in a decent amount of time. We will be training there for a good period, so I think you do catch up a bit, but it certainly changes the dynamic when it's that hot.

"Conserving energy will probably be a factor and playing rugby in the right areas of the pitch. I don't know if it will be a cognitive decision, but your head tells you what will be the way to go."

Japan is expected to deliver a World Cup like no other, as long as the weather plays ball.

Ahead of the Olympics next year, the country is ready to put on a spectacular show and O'Mahony is relishing the journey that lies ahead.

"World Cups are incredible experiences, they are different but hugely enjoyable," he adds.

"They are things you don't forget. Not everyone gets to them, but I suppose with Japan and the Maoris, these things are a little bit different.

"Not everyone gets the reception that we are going to get. They are things that will last with you for a long time.

"You're talking about a World Cup that will live long in the memory. These things are hugely important."

Peter O'Mahony was speaking at a Heineken event to promote the chase for the Webb Ellis Cup ahead of the start of the World Cup

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