O’Gara’s mid-air challenge on Fourie du Preez afforded the Boks an 80th-minute penalty chance to win the game and clinch the Test series, but O’Connell has no doubts that O’Gara will come back stronger than ever.
“As you might imagine, he was very low after the game; I have spoken to him briefly but he is a very tough guy mentally; that’s one of his biggest strengths. What happened won’t be lost on him, but he has been at the top for a while, he has won games for teams and when you put yourself out there for Lions selection, Irish selection, or club selection you know these things happen from time to time,” said O’Connell.
“There is always the chance of something like that happening; none of our careers are up, up and up all the time; there are tough days as well and the best players and the tough guys bounce back from things like that. Ronan is one of those players and anyway I don’t think we should have been in that position as a team.
“A few things went against us and we made a few mistakes to put ourselves in that (unfortunate) position and we can’t and will not point the finger of blame at one man.”
O’Connell insisted he wasn’t expecting any apologies from Springbok flanker Schalk Burger for the eye-gouging incident on Luke Fitzgerald that merited an eight-week ban, but he did express surprise that Alan Quinlan, for what he termed a much less serious incident, should have been ruled out for 12 weeks prior to the start of the Tour.
“It surprised (me) in a way, but it’s not for me to say, that’s for the legal people to decide; Schalk Burger has got eight weeks but I reckon it’s irrelevant at this stage what he got. He is suspended – that’s the decision – we have to worry about the match at the weekend and we don’t want to get involved in any side issues as players this weekend,” he said.
O’Connell is looking forward to a well-earned break of four weeks, but he has no intention of taking his eye off the ball at Ellis Park.
“We look forward to finishing the tour on a high; after the game last week there was major disappointment because we came here to win a series and we came up short – not by much, but we came up short.
“It’s not ideal, we would love to be here at 1-1 but we’re not; we just have to get on with it and the guys are professional enough to do that. We didn’t come here for big performances; we came here to win and that’s disappointing. But we have one more crack at this and there would be no better way than to finish with a win and on a high.”
Meanwhile Munster manager Shaun Payne has also backed O’Gara to bounce back from his latest adversity. And South African-born Payne added that Boks coach Pieter de Villiers “spoke before he thought” when making his controversial eye-gouging comments earlier this week.
Speaking on Eamon Keane’s Lunchtime show on Newstalk, Payne said: “I haven’t spoken with Ronan but he has come through these situations before. He knows how to deal with these things. He’s very strong mentally and he can bounce back from it as he has done in the past.”
Payne also said that Munster are in the process of making “one or two” more signings this summer with Springbok centre Jean De Villiers hotly tipped to move to the home of the two-time European champions.
Asked whether the Reds will be bringing in marquee names, Payne replied: “Wait and see.”