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all-blacks test Ronan O’Gara interview: ‘We are stars at getting it right between World Cup cycles’

Competition for places key to better showing at 2023 World Cup, insists optimistic O’Gara


Ronan O'Gara: "You can’t have peaks and troughs, you need a level of consistency in your team." Photo: Sportsfile

Ronan O'Gara: "You can’t have peaks and troughs, you need a level of consistency in your team." Photo: Sportsfile

ronan o'gara

ronan o'gara

La Rochelle head coach Ronan O'Gara

La Rochelle head coach Ronan O'Gara


Ronan O'Gara: "You can’t have peaks and troughs, you need a level of consistency in your team." Photo: Sportsfile

The words ‘Keep Ball Alive’ were never mentioned across the Irish post-match interviews after Saturday’s win over Japan, but the Crusaders philosophy, as famously espoused by Ronan O’Gara last winter, was all over the all-singing, all-dancing 60-5 win. Now, he believes it’s time to test it against the All Blacks.

After being left disillusioned by the paucity of attacking ambition during the Lions series, the former Ireland out-half felt restored watching the forwards link with the backs in such emphatic style at the Aviva Stadium.

He’s experienced enough to know that November dawns can be false, that the true test of a team’s progression will be examined in full every four years.

And so, while he enjoyed watching his old team produce such effective, pretty patterns and blow the Japanese away, he is realistic enough to see the bigger picture.

None of this will matter if Andy Farrell’s men exit the stage at the quarter-final in 2023.

So, O’Gara wants to see that endgame form part of every decision, ranging from whether to stick with the same team for this week’s clash with the All Blacks or introduce some new faces to developing the back-up out-half.

“Before Japan, it was put on record that there was an emphasis on the World Cup and then all of a sudden after the weekend it’s been, ‘Okay, this is the team’,” he said.

“As an ex-player, what disappoints me the most would probably be the underperformance at World Cups.

“We’re stars at getting it right between cycles but never right on the cycle that matters, so that will have to be something that has to be reviewed but maybe the fact that (the performance against) Japan went much better than anticipated, you go extremely strong for New Zealand and then see where you are.

“If you manage to get a result against New Zealand then you’re probably looking at a clean sweep and world-ranking points but I don’t think that’s of any interest between World Cups.

“What is interesting would be who’s the second-choice 10.

“The World Cup is 24 months away, that’s an awful long time for this team, irrespective of how they did against Japan.

“Japan isn’t the barometer and I think you’ll get a real gauge this weekend of where Ireland are from a tactical point of view but also from a performance point of view, because I was certainly underwhelmed with the Lions series.

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“It was such a disappointing series and the lack opportunity to win a series potentially 3-0. If that how the top team in Europe is playing the game, then the game is in danger.

“I was left extremely frustrated through the summer.
“But, to see how Ireland played at the weekend caught me by surprise to be honest and it gave me huge optimism to watch this team going forward.

“It’s very exciting, very different because we’ve become so au fait with the box-kick.

“We saw that was an incredible part of the game and we saw at the weekend that it doesn’t have to be necessarily at all”

Consistency has been a big focus for Ireland in this window and backing up the Japan win with a similarly ambitious, effective performance against New Zealand would be a big step forward.

O’Gara believes finding that level of performance is key.

“Competition for places,” he said when asked about the team’s priorities.

“You get that in a competitive squad and reading the small print of what Paulie (O’Connell) said, he wants to create an environment where people are not sure what his starting team is.

“He’s got a depth chart of three for 1-8, that hasn’t been the case. As players, you hate that but once you get into coaching you realise you have to have that.

“Someone gets a tummy bug the morning of the game, a hooker hurts his shoulder or blows an ankle and you’re down to your third choice and your third choice has to be somewhere near your starter in your head is.

“You can’t have peaks and troughs, you need a level of consistency in your team. It’s hugely important.

“As we’ve seen, we’ve been good enough to win one-off games. What happens in World Cups, you have to be very good to win your quarter-final and then.... we’ve never been there, so we don’t know what that looks like.”

Figuring out the conundrum at out-half is a big part of the picture.

His old sparring partner, Johnny Sexton, is still the top dog and starred on his 100th cap last Saturday, but he’ll be 38 when the World Cup rolls around and O’Gara is concerned that Ireland won’t be ready if his body refuses to play ball.

“I like what the Irish management did, getting to 100 caps was very important to him and I think he will have more caps, how many more it’s hard to know,” he said.

“If he keeps playing like he did on Saturday he’ll have loads more but usually at that age things slow down a bit and it gets harder, but you probably get a bit of a taste of that when you play New Zealand, Wales, Scotland, England, France consistently.

“Looking at the small print, the options for the November series, Harry Byrne had very few minutes for Leinster and Joey Carbery had minutes for Munster but probably mixed from that fact that he’s coming back from a very, very serious injury and still looks like he’s establishing a routine of high performance for himself, where he’s just about trying to get confidence.”

O’Gara believes that picture will be clearer by the end of the season, but first the focus is on beating New Zealand. “I think Ireland will test them. Ireland are a very intelligent team now,” he said, referencing O’Connell’s influence and variety of Ireland’s lineout attack.

“For me, it’s a very 50/50 game. I think if Ireland get ahead, they could be very hard to catch because Ireland are so disciplined… I think what was so refreshing last weekend was Ireland’s ability to have a go. We haven’t seen that in a long, long time and I think that has re-energised and re-awoken so many of us who love watching the Irish rugby team.”

Irish menswear company Benetti has announced a two-year partnership with former Munster, Ireland and British & Irish Lions player Ronan O’Gara. For more, see Benetti.ie

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