Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Six Nations: Ronan O'Gara proves he is man for all seasons

Ireland's Ronan O'Gara celebrates his try
Ireland's Jonathon Sexton celebrates winning the RBS 6 Nations match at Murrayfield
Ireland's Cian Healy tackled by Kelly Brown of Scotland

Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll won’t be drawn into the Jonny Sexton versus Ronan O’Gara debate as the countdown to the second of three Triple Crown matches picks up pace.

Ireland face Wales at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday week (March 12, 5pm) and following O’Gara’s man of the match performance against Scotland on Sunday at Murrayfield where the guests won 21-18 there is a groundswell of opinion that the 33-year-old should again get the vote for Cardiff.

O’Driscoll is too clever and too diplomatic to allow himself to be caught in the crossfire, however. As well as being long-time friends, his and O’Gara’s international careers have run in near-perfect synchronicity, witness the similarity in the number of Irish caps they have earned. O’Driscoll has 110; Sunday saw ‘ROG’ chalk up his 106th.

Together they have shared in four Triple Crowns and a Grand Slam.

But Sexton is a Leinster team mate and the battles in which they have fought – and won – side by side include the 2009 Heineken Cup triumph.

In the circumstances, O’Driscoll’s refusal to enter into any debate along stark either/or lines is understandable. It is not a case of avoiding a difficult subject; the Irish skipper stresses that their styles of play are not the same, for which reason they offer alternatives.

Both bring a lot to the table so it is a matter of different rather than better or lesser contributions.

With their hero’s role in Sunday’s win against Scotland still fresh in people’s minds the pro-O’Gara lobbyists began making their case as soon as the final whistle sounded.

Having just seen O’Gara score a fine try, convert each of Ireland’s three touchdowns and control the game during his 67-minute shift, they were able to present a good case.

But O’Driscoll has steadfastly avoided offering any opinion as to which of the current protagonists he would prefer to see wearing 10 in Cardiff.

Pressed on whether he felt O’Gara was motivated by having had a point to prove after ousting his rival for the starting position, O’Driscoll replied: “Yeah, he did. But I don’t want this to be one-sided; I think Jonathan’s done really well in the two previous games and he’ll have thought himself very unfortunate to have missed out on this one.

“But that’s the calibre of two really good 10s who are pushing each other to the best of their ability and bringing the best out in one another.

“ROG steered us really well for whatever it was – 60, 65 minutes. And then Sexto came on, defended extremely well, which was needed from him, and did some simple things really well.

“It was a good performance from both of them.”

But O’Driscoll clearly felt able to be more forthright in expressing his opinions on a not dissimilar situation on the Scottish side where 23-year-old Ruaridh Jackson — like Sexton the younger, more attack-minded option — was preferred to Dan Parks, 32, whose strength is as a kicker.

Parks took over in the 54th minute, donating six points to set up an anxious final 10 minutes for the Irish.

O’Driscoll added: “When Dan Parks came on the Scottish forwards were in the ascendancy.

“I thought Jackson played well, played solidly. He is a good attacking threat himself and he plays fairly flat to the line so you have to give him respect. I’d say he’s definitely a talent and one to build on.”

I won’t have any say in Declan Kidney’s selection for the forthcoming Millennium Stadium test, of course. If I did, then based on Sunday’s display and the weight of historic evidence I’d give it to the man whose two conversions and drop goal at the same Cardiff venue helped clinch the Grand Slam on March 21, 2009.

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