Ronan O’Gara.

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What a kick in the teeth feels like

HOW coincidental my exasperation on these pages at the fading art of kicking should be followed last Saturday by the wayward clearance that may define this season’s Six Nations championship, writes Ronan O’Gara.

What a kick in the teeth feels like

The standard of Italian kicking against Ireland in Rome was absolutely shocking, but the Azzurri were a beaten docket anyway.

The key moment of the weekend, and maybe the tournament came in the 76th minute of the Wales-England game in Cardiff.

The story of how a nothing kick from Jonathan Davies didn’t so much cost Wales the game, but afforded England the moment they required to ramp it all up to their devastating best.

Davies has a good left foot, and was a good exit option for that side of the pitch.

There’s been plenty of hindsight experts saying otherwise but if you’ve a left-footed kicker, you employ him in that area, at that moment.

Under Gatland and Howley, Wales’s strategy is don’t kick the ball out.

Their emphasis is on kicking it as long and hard as possible and backing their aggressive D line.

However, last Saturday Davies neither found touch nor put it long enough to allow his colleagues come up and engage.

He kicked in 40m long and towards midfield, straight into George Ford’s hands.

His positive run put a lovely pass in front of Owen Farrell who spun out a beauty to Elliot Daly who didn’t have to break stride as he accelerated, scorching Alex Cuthbert on the outside.

Try.

Rugby at its beautiful best, but the ultimate ball- breaker for every forward in a Wales jersey learning a harsh lesson on how an inaccurate kick can be punished.

Would things have turned out differently if Davies had found touch? England could have got a driving maul going from touch, for sure, but it was a four-point game at the same time, with 76 minutes on the clock.

The value of accurate kicking, eh? For anyone interested in a more brutal demonstration of how not to kick the ball in the test arena, run through the Italy repertoire against Ireland.

In any sport, in any skill, intention one thing, execution quite another.

Sometimes it’s forgivable to miss the target by 10-15 metres out of hand like Jon Davies, but there were Italians close to the touchline putting the ball back into the centre of the pitch at the Stadio Olimpico.

Banjos and barn doors come to mind.

A complete spray-all-over-the-place job.

The most impressive aspect of a stunning game in Cardiff was the English ruthlessness when the moment presented itself.

Why would anyone indulge the ‘England could have lost their opening two games’ silliness? There were four minutes left in Cardiff when they seized the day.

They achieved it in 20 seconds.

Four minutes is an age in that context for a great team.

England had a gun put to their head, they went for the jugular and executed to perfection.

The body language of Eddie Jones’s players portrays serious composure now.

Before, Owen Farrell would have got narky and jumpy in such a tight corner.

Now he is the definition of composure.

Will Greenwood rates him in the top three players in the world at the moment, and I’m not inclined to disagree.

He’s playing the best rugby I’ve seen from him, both in the black of Saracens and the white of England.

He offers an awful lot, and that says more than it sounds.

His consistency, his preparation, always being there for the clutch moments in games – what more would a coach want from one of his totems?

He single-handedly dragged Sarries back for a crucial Champions Cup draw against Scarlets, and not many of his peers could or would have managed it.

Sometimes you have to stop digging for more in a player and appreciate what he actually is.

It’s a Warren Gatland call whether he starts as a 10 or 12 in the summer, but he starts and he will lead.

Joe Schmidt will be expecting the same qualities from Johnny Sexton against France tomorrow week.

People must understand the fundamental importance of the relationship and the trust between a coach and a player.

As long as Joe Schmidt is coaching Ireland and Sexton retains form, he plays.

Himself and Joe are like an item - that’s the depth of relationship they have, they come as a package.

Interpret it any way you wish, but who is the coach Johnny Sexton has played his top rugby under? I recognise loyalty isn’t always the best thing, not always the route to go as a coach, but when there is real belief there, belief in putting the game strategy in a player’s hands, then the debate is moot.

Johnny plays.

The French squad will be in a very different place psychologically than it would had last Sunday gone pear-shaped in Paris.

It wasn’t a convincing win over Scotland.

It was a bad win, if there is such a thing.

But the alternative doesn’t bear thinking about for French rugby – the reaction to the win has been negative enough as it is.

Everyone knew if the French had lost to the Scots, there’d have been uproar.

Why, I am never sure.

France have hardly been stacking up wins.

They expect to click without having the foundations for a game.

It’s funny with the French, and it’s something I could only say about them: They are not far from clicking and not far from imploding.

If they lose to Ireland and Wales, you wonder what the heat will be like on Guy Noves?

However, they won’t come to Dublin with trepidation.

They won’t be as bad as last Sunday, but the old question once more - how are they going to improve discipline if they don’t train to improve their discipline? The individual errors can be eliminated.

They were uncharacteristic.

These boys can play rugby, and if you got a dry day at the Aviva, it might not be the best thing from Ireland’s point of view.

The wingers, Nakaitaci and Vakatawa are incredible athletes.

I am just not sure they’re incredible players.

Are they finishers?

Yes.

Going forward they are incredibly dangerous.

But going backwards they are incredibly vulnerable.

On a personal note, I would like to record my pride and honour at Cork City Council’s offer of the freedom of Cork, which I will gratefully accept in May or June.

This is a massive thing for my family and it’s a very select group of sportsperson I will join.

On another ‘local’ matter, well done to Eanna Falvey on being selected as the head of the medical division for the Lions tour to New Zealand this summer.

The Lions have got themselves an expert in sports medicine.

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