Time for knockers to say sorry to O’Gara for all the cheap shots
Munster outhalf showed that class really is permanent
Nathan Hines and Ronan O’Gara at the end of the Heineken Cup semi-final. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
All the journalists and users of social media who said Ronan O’Gara was past it, you may now apologise.
I am sure Rog will accept a short “I am sorry. I was wrong. You are still a class act” from you all.
He will take emails, phone calls, tweets, Facebook messages and even old fashioned letters. He is expecting a lot of messages because there were a lot of you who were wrong and you all took every opportunity to take cheap shots at a true Irish champion.
Form is temporary, class is permanent and Ronan O’Gara is a class act.
There is an attacking rule that states, before you go around a team’s defence, you have to go through them. Munster tried in vain to run through a very well organised Clermont defensive line. They also tried and failed to go around the defence. Munster were caught in the type of dull, side-to-side attack we have seen from them for several seasons.
It is easy to defend and does not create space. The Munster centres could not find a gap in the Clermont line. Rob Penney must fix Munster’s lack of go forward because it is a coach killer.
Enter O’Gara. The only go forward Munster could organise to breach Clermont was from Ronan’s boot. The variety and precision of his kicking display was breathtaking.
As he has done for more than a decade, Rog moved his team out of their own half and kept Clermont inside their 22. He began to frustrate the men from the Massif Central.
Good field position
Once O’Gara gained Munster good field position then he attacked the space, with a cross kick for Denis Hurley to score. The excellence of his conversion from the sideline put the pressure firmly on the shoulders of the French team.
Young outhalves should watch the Munster restarts. Every perfectly weighted kick from O’Gara attacked a different area of the field. The skill required to perform these drop kicks is truly remarkable.
When I thought the kicking masterclass could show me no more, Rog produced skill, technique and composure that you observe only in the greats.
The grubber kick he threaded between the Clermont legs which rolled to the try line on the fat side of the ball so it would stay on the grass and not bounce out was exquisite. I cannot overstate the immense skill, control and composure required to execute this kick.
A kick is only as good as its chase, and the chase was good.
We learnt that the Clermont wingers turn slower than milk and Lee Byrne is in the defensive line and not behind the line in his own 22. You can guarantee Rog knew this before the game.
That kick should have led to a match-winning try.
The rugby gods had other plans. Munster knocked on. It is Clermont’s year. I believe they will win the Heineken Cup and they are the best team in Europe this season.
As ever, Munster were brave. They were physically totally committed to the contest. Yet if we selected a team from both Munster and Clermont only O’Gara, Paul O’Connell and possibly Donnacha Ryan would be guaranteed selection. Still Munster did not understand that they should be beaten by the French giants.
I feel for the Munster players. In quiet moments of reflection they know they should have achieved one of the greatest upsets victories in Heineken Cup history. A win so special, it would go into the pantheon of Munster’s greatest victories.
Justice was done
To the impartial observer justice was done. Clermont were the better team for the majority of the match. They are physically a massive team. The giant frame of O’Connell appeared slight against the mass of the Clermont pack.
Clermont are well coached and highly organised. When they use their bulk and strength to stand in the tackles and offload, as they did prior to the Napolioni Nalaga try, they are close to unstoppable.
Like Munster of old, Clermont have to win the Heineken Cup to kill their demons. The pain created by their semi-final loss to Leinster last season either breaks teams or galvanises them. Vern Cotter’s men have made a pact that they will sacrifice all else to lift the European Cup.
The Aviva has been the stage where Leinster have inflicted heartbreak on Clermont on so many occasions. This year it will be the stage for possibly one of their greatest days.
How sad it is that we will not get the chance to thank and bid farewell to Ronan on that stage. If Saturday was Ronan’s last Heineken Cup match, he can be content he will go out at the top of his game.
Knowing Rog, that will mean nothing to him because his team lost.
If there is one thing that defines the career of Ronan O’Gara it is that he is a winner.
Even when the opposition team scored more points than Munster, he remained a winner.