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Tyrone Howe: How do you solve a problem like O’Gara?

After the success of the Andrew Lloyd Webber-inspired TV show which found a new leading actress for the West End version of the Sound of Music, there are whisperings that rugby is launching its own version.

A potential celebrity judging panel might include Ollie Campbell, Tony Ward, and our own David Humphreys. Why these three? Because they would be uniquely qualified to give their expert views on the out half dilemma that Declan Kidney currently faces. The show might be called, “How do you solve a problem like O’Gara?”

In his illustrious career, the Munster man has already climbed virtually every mountain, but ROG’s performances in this Six Nations, off the bench against Italy and France, and a starting role against Scotland, have proved that he still oozes experience and the composure to control a game.

So, no sense of “So Long Farewell” and nor should there be. ROG is a natural competitor and why on earth should he go quietly, when his rugby proves that he still has much to offer.

For a while, O’Gara seemed to struggle with the idea that there was a young pretender to his crown in Jonny Sexton. Having accepted the new and long overdue battle for the ten shirt after the departure of David Humphreys, ROG’s attitude has hardened further and he is up for the fight.

Looking towards the rest of the Six Nations and World Cup, this provides an intriguing conundrum for Declan Kidney. Would the Ireland coach have tinkered with the out half spot had that last pass stuck against France and Ireland emerged victorious? I doubt it. Would Ireland have beaten Scotland with Jonny Sexton as starting out half? The answer is surely yes. The rugby might have been slightly different but the result would have been the same.

Ireland should have thrashed Scotland. Just at the point where that result might have been on the cards, two incidents got in the way. Firstly, a penalty for killing the ball deep in Scotland’s 22, and then ROG was pinged for holding onto the ball having taken it into contact. The ruthless edge displayed in the opposition 22 came through with three tries, but it should have been a lot more. However, the cheap penalties that allowed Scotland back into the game had nothing to do with the selection of who played at ten.

Some might say that it is a great dilemma to have, but Declan Kidney is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Why? Because there is a clear contradiction in his message. The coach has talked about an enhanced style of play, which will take time, but should empower Ireland to reach a higher level of rugby. Ostensibly this was to revolve around Jonny Sexton, who is deemed to be “the future”. However, ROG refuses to be regarded as a supporting actor when he believes that his rugby merits the leading role. Selection influences the core question as to what direction Kidney and his squad are heading in? Is an about-turn on the cards?

I hope not, as I believe that ROG’s experience is now best utilised coming off the bench. He has the class and experience to be able to see what is needed

to change the game, very much in the same way that David Humphreys did in a similar role. Jonny Sexton needs Kidney’s full backing and greater demands should be made from his scrum half and centre partners.

All the talk thus far has been about attack. One area in which Ireland have been consistently superb is their defence, which has limited the extent of the potential damage given the high penalty count. Wales, in this weekend’s match, will test Ireland’s defence more than any other side so far in the Championship — Sexton offers more in terms of closing down the ten channel, but Wales probably fear O’Gara more.

Selection in the next two games will be fascinating. While questions continue to abound about Ireland’s performances, most of all Kidney needs to keep winning. Supporters are far more forgiving if you win ugly rather than lose ugly. The man he trusts most to deliver is O’Gara.

ROG celebrated his birthday last Monday. He might be “34 going on 35” but there is life yet in one of Irish rugby’s golden generation.

Belfast Telegraph

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