Ronan O’Gara gives Ireland a 50-50 chance against All Blacks

Former outhalf is encouraged by the style of rugby Ireland adopted against Japan

Suddenly it seems, everyone - even previous doubters - are on board. Not that he was a critic, but even Ronan O'Gara is one of those so enthused by the brand of rugby Ireland played against Japan last Saturday that although the All Blacks are an altogether different proposition and the bookies make them 2/9 favourites on Saturday, he gives Ireland a 50-50 chance.

“I think it’s a difficult game (to call) because I think Ireland will test them. I think Ireland are a very intelligent team now. You could see Paul’s straps all over that team last weekend,” he said in reference to Paul O’Connell.

"I just think it's hard to know what Ireland are going to do off lineout strikes at the minute, whether they're going to drive it, whether peel it with Kelleher, peel it with the 8, peel it with the 9. There are so many derivatives of how they can attack New Zealand, and their ruck seems to be very good, but the massive shift was, I suppose, people running very good lines and running into holes as opposed to running into bodies.

“So 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 as well,” he said, before admitting that if a team “gets one kick-exit wrong or you get one miss-kick poorly placed” against New Zealand they suffer. “I mean, for example, Will Jordan is an absolute freak. Brilliant going forward but would have his deficiencies going back - no doubt about it.

“I think what was so refreshing last weekend was Ireland’s ability just to have a go. We haven’t seen that in a long, long time and I think that has re-energised or re-awoken so many of us who love watching the Irish rugby team.”

While O’Gara doesn’t believe Ireland have to be more cautious on Saturday, they will have to be incredibly smart and, “epitomised by Gibson-Park” against Japan, very accurate.

In danger

O'Gara has had an intense introduction to his first Top 14 as the main man at La Rochelle. Losing first up at home to their bête noire, Toulouse, precipitated a run of three successive defeats but five wins in their last seven games have seen them climb to sixth.

“I’m delighted to get a break now - two weekends off now without a game.”

Looking ahead to this window, O'Gara had been left "underwhelmed" by the South Africa-Lions series. "If that's how the top team in Europe (the Lions) is playing the game, then the game is in danger. 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 necessarily be so at all”

O'Gara now believes that Andy Farrell should probably go with the same side.

“I think as an ex-player what disappoints me the most would probably be the under-performance 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 Japan went much better than anticipated, you go extremely strong for New Zealand and then see where you are.”

He particularly likes the way Ireland’s coaches backed James Lowe’s attacking game. “His confidence went through the roof, and he played like that as a result.”

He also applauded Farrell and for sticking with Sexton last week. “With Johnny and what he’s done for Irish rugby, the competitor he is, getting to 100 caps was important to him. He’ll have more caps. How many more? It’s hard to know. If he keeps playing the way he did on Saturday, loads more.”

Sharp contrast

Sexton's full pre-season and strong start to the season were, noted O'Gara, also in sharp contrast to Harry Byrne's lack of minutes with Leinster and Joey Carbery's "mixed" form.

“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. It’s hard for a 10 to get that at Test level, you need to get it at club level through playing games.”

Meantime though, O'Gara doesn't believe Jack Carty, now 29, should abandon his Irish ambitions.

“Just persevere, that would be my message to Jack. That’s the biggest thing in the 10 position, you get better most definitely at 28, 29, 30, 31 by just understanding the position.

"I think what Jack has eliminated recently is howlers, and he had howlers in his game. He needs to be consistently delivering for Connacht. So I think it's a win-win scenario for both of them but it would be a massive error on his behalf to throw the toys out of the pram and say: 'This isn't going to happen for me.' You're talking about trying to play for Ireland, trying to push Johnny Sexton aside. It's a big ask on both campaigns but it can be done."

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

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