Peter Bills: O’Gara looks to press his credentials
A fortnight ago, Jonathan Sexton scored 22 points against the Scarlets and two days later found himself reinstated in the Ireland No 10 jersey for the successful trip to Twickenham.
Perhaps it was always going to happen, but that Magners League performance for Leinster at the RDS certainly did Sexton's candidature no harm. This evening, the man Sexton replaced at out-half leads Munster in their Magners League clash against Welsh opposition, when they take on the Dragons at Rodney Parade (6.30).
Sexton had a key role in two of Ireland's three tries last weekend in a strong overall performance before Ronan O'Gara was brought on to steer Declan Kidney's men to victory.
As the man in possession, Sexton is favourite to retain the jersey for next weekend's visit of Wales to Croke Park but O'Gara is in superb form and will know a dominant performance this evening will make a compelling argument for his inclusion.
The out-half has a strong team around him. Peter Stringer is a familiar partner at scrum-half, Lifeimi Mafi and the departing Jean de Villiers fill the centre slots with Doug Howlett on the right wing and Paul Warwick at full-back. Denis Hurley is on the left wing as the Irish member of a three-quarter line packed with overseas ability. Up front, Marcus Horan gets the opportunity to continue his recent good form at loose-head while Tony Buckley will want to build from a decent cameo off the bench at Twickenham.
Just as O'Gara is in audition mode, so too is Buckley for, if the big Shannon man struggles at scrum-time, it will weaken his case for next weekend; although his main rivals, Tom Court and Mike Ross, are not starting at tight-head for their provinces.
The seventh-placed Dragons are three positions and five points behind Munster and have lost their last three Magners League games, having not beaten Munster in this competition since 2007.