Boot of O'Gara helps Munster to stand up and fight off Saracens
POOL ONE Munster 15 Saracens 9:When this meeting is simplified, an important difference separated the English visitors from their Limerick hosts: one man’s right boot.
Forget the intrusive and inconsistent performance of replacement referee Pascal Gauzere, especially his handling of the scrums, or even Munster’s hugely successful raid of the previously impenetrable Saracens lineout, this contest was decided off the kicking tee.
The master, once again, gave a young pretender to his rule on magical Thomond Park nights like this a lesson in composure. The victim was an IRB player of the year nominee no less.
Ronan O’Gara’s perfect return was in stark contrast to the 21-year-old Owen Farrell landing just two from six shots at goal.
The increasing din for O’Gara’s removal from the Test arena should die down for now. Ulster’s Paddy Jackson only registered two from seven place-kicks on Friday night.
And yet, to simplify matters down to O’Gara kicking excellence would be a disservice to Munster’s new hard edge up front. The statistics support number eight James Coughlan – 12 carries for 39 hard metres, mostly off restarts, and seven tackles – receiving the man of the match award but it was the next generation who stood up more than what remains of the old order. That they outfought Steve Borthwick’s grizzled English cum Springbok cum Celtic gathering of power is the best compliment of all.
Peter O’Mahony was phenomenal, be it his openside duties, the lineout or deft handling in open play, while Dave O’Callaghan, Dave Kilcoyne and Mike Sherry excelled in a physical encounter some predicted would leave them badly exposed.
Yes, O’Callaghan’s namesake, that old warhorse they call Donncha, made a telling defensive contribution (despite being sin-binned for fighting Rhys Gill), as did James Downey, Doug Howlett, Felix Jones and Simon Zebo, but it was the 22-year-old Cork blindside who, under this glaring spotlight, shined brightly.
At 6ft 5in and 100kg, O’Callaghan proved a useful cog in Anthony Foley’s excellent defensive lineout as his place in the backrow pecking order has surely improved after this performance.
In the 30th minute we witnessed proof that the Youghal man is of pure bred Munster stock. Already stunned from a collision with the 21 stone Mako Vunipola, he knocked himself out cold tackling the recently naturalised English prop for a second time.
Play moved swiftly on as O’Callaghan horribly searched for his equilibrium.
Muhammad Ali once called them the “Black Lights of unconsciousness”. As they shined in O’Callaghan’s eyes, instinct kicked in. Saracens were flooding through the midfield so the physio was dismissed as he made another shuddering tackle. He got up and ploughed on, deserving a standing ovation when relieved by Paddy Butler on 62 minutes. Along with Simon Zebo’s twisted ankle, it was confirmed that O’Callaghan will be fit to travel to Vicarage Road for Sunday’s second edition of this brawl.