Ronan O’Gara: It was like standing on the tee at Whistling Straits. There’s some buzz off it

So Andy Farrell opted to play safe last weekend with his selection against Scotland?

Ronan O’Gara: It was like standing on the tee at Whistling Straits. There’s some buzz off it

So Andy Farrell opted to play safe last weekend with his selection against Scotland?


The easier thing to do to buy some space and time would have been to start Deegan, Doris, Kelleher et al.

Make a building-for-2023 statement. Sort of like France are doing. Dupont and N’tamack, 23 and 20. Bouthier at full-back.

The new lads gave Galthie and France the smell of fresh bread on Sunday in the Stade de France. The players fed off it.

Andy Farrell might have done the same in Dublin. Maybe he is biding his time. The players seem to be indicating already there’s a more relaxed feel to Camp Ireland, whatever that means. I’m intrigued.

France full-back Anthony Bouthier is a rare example in modern day rugby of a bolter. A season ago he was playing Pro D2 with Vannes. He played Federale 1 (third tier) before that. Eventually Montpellier took a punt on him even though they’d signed Handre Pollard, South Africa’s World Cup-winning ten.

On Sunday Anthony Bouthier started at full-back and became an overnight social media sensation with a clearing kick for France from virtually under his own posts. It looked like it was spiralling towards a different Parisien arrondissement before trickling into touch five metres from the English line.

The French were 17-0 ahead at the time, and England looked poised to strike.

It was a monster momentum swing. Bouthier caught it as sweet as a plum. The loveliest sensation when you know you’ve flushed a kick. Kicking from hand and off the tee are distant cousins, spuds in the one field.

One of the purest kicking pleasures I had came not at Welford Road or the Millennium Stadium or even Thomond Park, but at the Galway Sportsground. It was blowing seven different kinds of gale and I didn’t use a kicking tee. It’s called ‘shunting’, a technique where you almost run through the kick and end up five metres beyond the point of contact.

I made five from five in a crosswind that was like standing on the tee at Whistling Straits and riding the wind to a patch of fairway 8m wide with water on either side. There’s some buzz off that.

It was like an arrowed three-iron but the contact had to be flush.

I’ve always been fascinated with the art and technique of kicking, both from hand and tee. Back in the day, I’d spend Wednesdays up in Cork Con practising rhythm and technique.

Distance comes later. Everything was the process. One day Frankie Sheahan was there practising his lineout throws and I shooed him off to the second pitch because he was breaking my focus!

For my size, I put a decent welt on it. That day in 2006 at Leicester’s Welford Road was a metre inside their half with the rain sluicing down.

I was pumped. Bouthier experienced the upside of adrenaline last Sunday in front of 80,000 spectators, working you, making your body pump differently.

The trick against Leicester was nearly to slow the body down to get the necessary composure. It is tough to practice length. I don’t think you practice anything longer than 40m, thereby ensuring you keep it within the realm of technique, not power.

But the ones who can produce both when required are the real kicking kings. Wilkinson, Carter (what is it with lefties?).

Halfpenny. Francois Steyn. Jules Plisson, with us at La Rochelle now, kicks it a mile.

When I started Mick ‘the Kick’ Kiernan, Ralph Keyes, Georgie O’Sullivan were the big kicking guns in Cork. Up in Limerick you had the likes of Jim Gavin, Anderw Thompson, Aidan O’Halloran and Cilian Keane.

Before he went the way of the Cork footballers, Barry Coffey had a monster boot on him too.

Before them all — before better pitches, better ball, advances in boots, S&C and sports psychology — there was Wales’ Neil Jenkins who was ridiculously consistent in an era when he had no right to be: 80%ers weren’t heard of then.

The Stade de France is a goalkicker’s stage. But the Broadway for kickers is the Bulls’ Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria, 1,200m above sea level, where the ball careers through the air.

I will never forget the ease of kicking in a session on the morning of the second Lions test against the Springboks in 2009.

We are duty-bound to say ‘infamous’ second test, but I am sure Fourie du Preez, Morne Steyn etc will get resurrected for next year’s Lions tour anyway.

There was more than one good reason not to give away a series-deciding penalty in the last minute for the Lions against South Africa, but the obvious one was that 53 metres wasn’t so daunting in the altitude of the Highveld!

The irony, by the way, was I saw the same Morne Steyn short from the 10-metre line in a November international at Lansdowne Road.

The difference between June in Pretoria and November in Dublin… France are fortunate with the schedule of matches in this year’s championship. If they weren’t at home to Italy this Sunday, I’d say they were extremely vulnerable.

People will get carried away with the victory over England. Don’t.

They’ve been eyeing this one for four months. Bernard le Roux, excellent last Sunday, may not be so disciplined next time out.

Let’s reserve judgement. Ireland go to Paris on the final weekend of the Six Nations. No-one knows what they will be facing at that stage, but if we were surmising on the basis of the opening weekend, Galthie and the players will be licking their lips.

The new ‘freshness’ in the Ireland camp is very much the Kiwi model, which is ironic given who has just left as head coach. Andy Farrell will bring some different approaches and philosophies, but he knows too that when things are going well, the players will say the environment feels like the best in the world.

Everyone has a point to make and a view to share, and that’s marvellous for ownership and inclusivity. But you wouldn’t want to be shaping your strategies on the basis of feedback from 20-odd different people. This is a settling phase for Ireland, a time when they are looking to find a groove.

That is true for management and for players. There is some time and space now to be different, to be expressive. Time for the new coach to plot his course.

I reckon they might have their work cut out tomorrow though.

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