O'Gara could kick on into team


HALF-BACK REMAINS Ireland’s most pressing selection concern prior to Friday’s announcement of their team to play Italy in Sunday’s Pool C shoot-out, with Ronan O’Gara and perhaps even Conor Murray very much in line to face the Azzurri in the third match, at Dunedin’s Otago Stadium.

Goal-kicking has become a significant issue for Ireland in their pool games and, oddly, this has been particularly true in the only two games played to date in the enclosed Otago Stadium, perhaps because of its open corners, or “drafts”. In any event, the overall return has been 13 from 31, or 42 per cent, with even Jonny Wilkinson struggling.

Jonathan Sexton’s general game has been good, and he offers both more physicality in defence and a quicker running threat, but his return of five from 13, or 38 per cent, has contrasted sharply with O’Gara, who has landed 10 from 12, or 83.3 per cent.

But for Sexton’s ratio, Ireland would have pushed clear sooner against both the USA and Australia, and Sexton’s missed conversion against Russia late on after replacing O’Gara against Russia only underlined their contrasting form off the “tee”.

Furthermore, O’Gara’s form and skills set, be it his adhesive hands or vast kicking repertoire, confirms his own claim that he is in a very good place at this, his third World Cup.

The nature of this Six Nations shoot-out against Italy, with Jonathan Kaplan as referee, is three-pointers will be at a premium, especially in the initial stages, and it seems increasingly likely the Ireland coaches may take the view that O’Gara is the better man for this specific job.

If so, they may also go with O’Gara’s Munster partner towards the end of their Magners League campaign and keep Eoin Reddan in reserve along with Sexton. For all Murray’s lack of experience, his physicality and sharpness at the heels of the Irish pack and general impact against Australia underlined his cool temperament.

As the pack picks itself and Gordon D’Arcy took a full part in training yesterday, the only other issue is on the wing, where Andrew Trimble is banging loudly on the door. Tommy Bowe (calf) and Paul O’Connell (hamstring) took part in some light training at the famous old Carisbrook grounds, aka the House of Pain, which is set to be demolished. It was hoped they will be able to step up their training levels today.

In contrast to others, most notably Australia, Ireland’s injury concerns remain relatively minor. Rob Kearney (bruised knee), Keith Earls (bruised leg) and Seán O’Brien (bruised arm) all sat out the session as a precaution to give another 24 hours’ rest to allow their injuries to settle, but all three were expected to return to training today.