Zebo played at full-back in Ireland’s draw with Wales in their Six Nations Championship opener, but wasn’t in the squad for the defeat to France and only appeared as a sub against England. O’Gara is of the view that greater consistency and hard work are required from Zebo.
“I like him, but there’s work to be done with him too,” he said “That’s what you see when you share a dressing room with him too. I’m one of his biggest fans but you need to stay on his back, he takes the soft option sometimes.
“He has the potential to be one of the top players, but he’s not yet. If he for one minute feels that he has arrived, that’s not the reality of the situation, looking from the outside in.” O’Gara was speaking at ‘Inside The Sporting Mind’, a show presented by the Irish Examiner at Cork’s Everyman Theatre.
Introduced by former Ireland captain and Examiner columnist Donal Lenihan, who reminded the audience that “This isn’t Gift Grub, by the way,” O’Gara cited the absence of Paul O’Connell and Brian O’Driscoll as being key factors in Ireland dropping from Six Nations contention this year.
“I think it’s important to realise what’s gone before. Ireland have no history in Twickenham or the Stade de France, we’ve got ahead of ourselves in that regard.
“In your time, ye were hoping to keep the score under 40 points when ye went there!”
“The other side to it, club rugby has very little to do with test rugby. You don’t get mismatches with weak players like you do with club rugby and Joe Schmidt excels in maximising performances but there’s no O’Driscoll, no O’Connell. There’s no Denis Hickie in the Ireland team at the moment, someone who just scores.
“There’s no x-factor now, they have possession but they can’t get over the line. Paul was able to inspire guys and Brian could create a score out of nothing.” This is the first year since 2001 that Ireland have been without O’Connell for the Six Nations, and O’Gara elaborated on what it was the second row brought to the set-up.
“It’s hard to get across to people who haven’t been in a dressing room, but he was able to cut through any rubbish,” he said.
“Paul was the epitome of professionalism and preparation and obviously has character. He probably learned from the likes of Gaillimh and Claw and yourself. You can’t underestimate the effect of club rugby in Munster.
“There are times when you have two options, shrink or grow. He’d look at you and you wouldn’t have any choice. There’s nobody else in sport I know who’d have the power to do that with one look, “F***king do this, Rog.” While there have been calls to throw players like Leinster’s Garry Ringrose into the team, O’Gara made the case that the management aren’t necessarily afraid of making such a call.
“You don’t really know what kind of animal you have until you throw them in there,” he said.
“In a game, you might only see 10 percent of a player’s skill-set, but if you’re with them all week in training, you might see 70 or 80. If you have a really good young player, one of the coaches will say it to the boss, so that happens too.” It is coming up on three years since O’Gara departed the scene himself, and he feels that joining Racing Metro as a coach immediately after his retirement helped him to transition.
“When you retire, it’s really difficult to adapt but leaving Cork made it so much easier,” he said, “when you’re gone, you’re gone.
“Some sportsmen like to stay in the spotlight but for me it was the best thing to do. I always wanted to go into coaching. Announcing what I was doing made it more straightforward.” Other speakers at the event were Ruby Walsh and Liam Brady, in conversation with the Examiner’s Tommy Lyons and Liam Mackey respectively.
Walsh was clear that he would leave it until the last possible moment to decide whether he would ride Vautour or Djakadam in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, while Brady believes that defeat for Arsenal at Tottenham Hotspur tomorrow would end their Premier League hopes.