O'Gara will have to draw on all his inner reserves if selected
Of all the players Declan Kidney and the Ireland management would not have wanted to be laid low in this Six Nations, Jonny Sexton would possibly have been uppermost on their list. And of all the players they would have wanted to have enjoyed a restorative outing over the weekend, it was Ronan O’Gara in Munster’s Rabo PRO12 game away to the Scarlets on Saturday evening.
Alas, it didn’t happen, Munster going down to an 18-10 defeat which would have done little to alleviate the growing concerns about O’Gara’s form. Most untypically, he even missed a couple of penalties from more or less in front of the posts. O’Gara looked to be taking the ball flatter to the gain line, and tried a variety of ploys to get Munster to break down the Scarlets defence, but suffered along with everyone else for some of the confusion in their attacking game.
O’Gara also appears to have plenty on his mind, aside from the new direction Munster are seeking to take under Rob Penney and Simon Mannix. A new contract beyond the end of the season has still to be sorted out, and no doubt, was seeing his publicised hopes of making another Lions tour ebb as he was confined to cameo roles behind Sexton since last starting for Ireland against Wales in the quarter-finals of the World Cup.
In his brief endgames against South Africa and Argentina O’Gara appeared almost to be trying too much, such as when kicking away possession with a chip ahead in the game’s final play against the Boks and then having a short 22-metre restart charged down in the build-up to Argentina scoring late on.
Until the England game, when missing a penalty by inches compounded a fraught day during which O’Gara was twice corralled off slow ball by advancing English strong men before the game effectively finished with a Mike Ross fumble off O’Gara’s pass, one could understand the Ireland management’s continuing faith in the player.
It was not as if either Paddy Jackson or Ian Madigan were tearing down trees and O’Gara’s form for Munster was good. It’s also worth bearing in mind that last Saturday was his first start in five weeks. So much of the debate is shrouded by provincial allegiances nowadays and the man who has nervelessly helped deliver so many dramatic wins (not least a Grand Slam) deserves better than some of the criticism being directed at Ireland’s all-time record points scorer.
With so many injuries, and another probable debutant at inside centre in Luke Marshall, the desire to turn to experience is understandable, all the more so away from home in what is a must-win game if Ireland are to remain contenders for the Six Nations title.