Forget the tributes and put the highlight reels back in the video library, Ronan O’Gara could be back in a green jersey before the RBS 6 Nations is out, the Ireland management has insisted.
Despite being axed from Ireland’s squad for this Saturday’s Aviva Stadium clash against France, O’Gara’s 128-cap Test career might not be at the end most observers assumed when Paddy Jackson and Ian Madigan were called up alongside the still recuperating first-choice fly-half Jonny Sexton.
Sexton, rated a 50/50 chance of starting against the winless French in Dublin as he recovers from a hamstring injury, could be named in Ireland’s starting side today as Declan Kidney gives the Leinster out-half every chance of returning to full fitness for the must-win clash.
Yet he is still only running in straight lines, and hasn’t kicked a ball since the England game. If he does not make it, Ulster’s Jackson will be handed the starting role.
With the veteran Munster fly-half deemed surplus to requirements on the basis of form, Sexton’s provincial team-mate, the uncapped Madigan, will stand-by as the bench cover for Jackson.
Yet team manager Mick Kearney insisted O’Gara’s international career was not over and he was not ruling out the possibility of the Cork man returning for Ireland’s game against Italy in Rome on March 16.
“Obviously injuries could play a part in it for a start. Ronan played Saturday night for Munster against the Ospreys and he did fine, he played well and he hasn’t been ruled out of selection by any shape or means.
“The decision has gone the other way for him this week but I think we all know that in sport things can change very quickly and he could be back in the limelight again very quickly.”
Kearney did concede that any return for O’Gara would be on a short-term basis, adding: “If you were looking towards the World Cup in 2015 you’d have to say that it wouldn’t be a pragmatic thing to do but certainly if you were looking in the short-term I think his experience and everything could still be very beneficial before the end of the tournament.”
Kearney said O’Gara, whom he described as a “legend”, had been “disappointed” when informed of the decision to drop him during a conversation with Kidney on Sunday and suggested any call-up may have involved the Munster out-half training out of position.
“In fairness to Declan, he wanted to give him some advance warning as to what his thinking was going to be. If Ronan had come in, he would have been running (during training) on the centre or on the wing.
“I think, as Declan said, he wanted to pay him due respect… giving him an early warning was fair as far is Ronan is concerned.
“I don’t think, certainly, by leaving him out of the squad, it certainly wasn’t Declan’s intention that he was writing off his international career.”
Kidney will face the media today when he unveils his team to face the French.
Despite the injury doubts surrounding not just Sexton but also Murrayfield try scorer Craig Gilroy (groin strain) and the locks who started the campaign, Donnacha Ryan (bruised shoulder joint) and Mike McCarthy (knee), the team announcement will go ahead as intended.
The outlook for McCarthy’s comeback from an injury suffered in the defeat to England is bright while Ryan was participating in “modified training” and had Kearney was “hopeful he’ll be okay”.
Ireland also look set to restore Cian Healy to the front row after the loosehead prop’s suspension finished last Sunday night.
IRELAND (possible): R Kearney; K Earls, B O’Driscoll, L Marshall, C Gilroy; J Sexton/P Jackson, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, M Ross; M McCarthy, D Ryan; P O’Mahony, S O’Brien, J Heaslip.
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