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O'Gara makes supporters plea

Ronan O'Gara

Ronan O'Gara issued an emotional plea for Ireland fans to defy the bleak economic climate by reviving their support for the team.

Swathes of empty seats greeted the homecoming to Lansdowne Road with only 35,515 tickets sold for Saturday's 23-21 defeat by South Africa, over 16,000 short of the 51,700 capacity.

O'Gara said: "Emotionally Ireland's greatest tool has been their fans. They've been so good to this team and we need them back. We need them more than ever. We miss them."

The IRFU last week apologised for their pricing strategy - tickets were only available in two-match packages costing £166 or £131 - and were punished by spells of Saturday's match being played against a backdrop of eerie silence.

It was an unsatisfying way for O'Gara - a magnificent servant to Irish rugby - to celebrate his 100th cap, even if his introduction from the bench with 15 minutes remaining did inspire a spirited fightback.

O'Gara knows supporters are suffering during the recession that continues to blight the 'Celtic Tiger', but confessed that the team needs their loyalty like never before.

"It's strange...the whole economic situation has affected people really badly, more than people appreciate. It's probably only going to get worse," he said.

"I don't know how many were there but there were empty seats all over the stadium. It's probably a sign of things to come.

"Next week I don't know how many thousand will be there for Samoa....it's reality and is something everyone has to look at in terms of getting pricing right.

"We need the supporters - it's because of them that Ireland have been so good for so long. At the old Lansdowne Road there was an unbelievable atmosphere, so passionate and driven. We have to get those days back."