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O’Gara feeling the pressure at Thomond

By Hugh Farrelly

As paradoxical journeys go, yesterday's trip to Thomond Park for the build-up to Friday night's critical Heineken Cup 'clash of the champions' was right up there.

Is it possible to break new ground while crossing familiar terrain? It certainly seemed so as Magners League title-holders Munster ready themselves for the considerable challenge of facing down their top 14 counterparts Perpignan.

The new ground came with a question over the selection of Ronan O'Gara, who has been untouchable as Munster out-half for more than 10 years.

The familiar territory was the knowledge the province will be going into battle with O'Gara and all their other trusted lieutenants as they bid to lay down a marker for the remainder of the season.

“No player is undroppable,” said coach McGahan, when asked about the out-half position but his subsequent elaboration indicated that O'Gara will be pulling the strings as usual on Friday night — as his proven match-winning ability dictates he should be.

Whether he will be taking the placed kicks however remains to be seen.

The out-half missed a succession of kicks in Saturday's loss at the Ospreys, and Paul Warwick is an option in this regard, but McGahan says that is a decision for O'Gara to make.

“Ronan has been a high-class kicker for a long period of time so he certainly knows within himself of where he is at in respect of that part of his job,” said the Australian.

“The rest of his game has been excellent, we certainly don't have any problem at all and we also have the option of other kickers, Paul Warwick kicks goals as well; Ronan will be the best decision-maker in that process, we will discuss that but at the end I think we will leave it up to him, he is the one who certainly knows what he can and can't do.”

If O'Gara and his team-mates have been misfiring somewhat this season, facing Perpignan on a ground where they have lost just once in this competition (a pool defeat to Leicester when Munster had already qualified) is the perfect chance to reload, refocus and release the frustrations so evident in the first section of the season.

The French outfit, bolstered by ending their 54-year wait for a domestic championship, arrive in Limerick with a strut and a sneer, confident they can out-muscle Munster on their own patch.

They will look to batter the home side up front, find their field position and manufacture scores — just the type of challenge that has always brought out the best of Munster in Europe — and they know exactly what to prepare for.

“We'll be expecting them to be at their best,” said McGahan.

“They've been in super form in the top 14 this year, they had a very good display against Northampton at home in Europe.

They have an extremely good set piece, anything 20-30 metres out from the try-line, whether it's maul or scrum the only thing they are thinking about is getting points either from a try or three points so they possess a varied game that's set through the set-piece.

“They are very dangerous through the set-piece and they will try to play the game through the forwards, they play a lot for field position so they kick a lot back in their 40 or 50 (zone), they don't really play any rugby there at all but their major threat is to get into the opposition zone and they aim to grind you down from there.”

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