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Ronan O'Gara fears for Ireland after Conor Murray loss

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

They have been there and done it all before and Joe Schmidt would pay hard cash for their experience, but rather than contributing to the Irish effort in Kildare yesterday Paul O'Connell and Ronan O'Gara were entertaining at a fund-raiser in Dublin for the Haven charity.

Word of the three changes to Ireland's team had just emerged and their optimism at Ireland's chances of denying England a world record 19th successive win faded with the news that Conor Murray failed a fitness test.

Kieran Marmion will start his first Six Nations game tomorrow and is in for a massive step up in class, according to O'Gara, who was impressed with his effort in Cardiff last Friday night but fears for the inexperience that surrounds his old sparring partner Johnny Sexton tomorrow.

"I was confident, but the Conor Murray news is big. He's massively important to the Irish team," the Racing 92 assistant coach said. "It's very hard to ask your replacement scrum-half to come in and know what the intensity is for 80 minutes when he's still finding his feet at Test level. It's unfair asking Marmion to do that.

"Ireland, with Johnny and with Conor, can really dictate, and at home they need to do that.

"Marmion did do well (on Friday), but I think starting a Test match at home to England will be different.

"We'll only see the best of (Robbie) Henshaw and (Garry) Ringrose in three years' time.

"Test level is incomparable to what happens in the RDS, Thomond Park, Ravenhill or the Sportsground. There's nothing there that prepares you for a Test game - you go up three levels.

"The speed of the game is an awful lot quicker, the time on the ball is so much less.

"England find a way to win, great teams do that. The 2003 team, they've a bit of similarity with them. The level of progression with Owen Farrell has been incredible, he's taken his game to a new level.

"Marmion will be tested, Iain Henderson is experienced, Jared Payne is experienced but you look at Marmion, Johnny Sexton, Henshaw, Ringrose. . . it's pretty much a rookie midfield coming up against a highly experienced midfield."

O'Gara fears that the English mission might trump the Irish effort.

"It would be a sad day if England out-desired Ireland at home, it wouldn't happen if Paul O'Connell was on the team," he said.

"That's what rugby comes down to, it's about winning that inch in front of you. The supporters have such a role to play.

"Essentially, it will be a battle of mental ability, who will crack first, and England have a lot of experience in that region.

"It's a game made for Sean O'Brien, he's made of the right stuff, and there's another five in that pack who won't let the tempo be dictated so I'm hoping, I'm confident it's another day to show why we believe in the Irish rugby team."

While retaining some hope that Ireland can win, O'Connell says an improved Ireland can win if they are clinical.

"We're going to be under savage pressure, we'll have to create a lot and take every opportunity that we get and we haven't been doing that," he said. "You have to take your chances, and that's something we did against New Zealand."

Irish Independent

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