TONY McGAHAN is confident Ronan O’Gara will relocate his shooting range in time to strengthen Munster’s Heineken Cup challenge in back-to- back games against French champions Perpignan, starting with Friday’s clash at Thomond Park.
The Munster coach made it clear when announcing a 27-man panel in Limerick yesterday that O’Gara’s place in the team was not in jeopardy, even though he conceded that any player, no matter how high the reputation, could be dropped if circumstances so dictated.
Right now, insisted McGahan, there were no such circumstances in relation to the highest scorer in the history of the competition, as he explained: “Yes, any player is droppable, and in relation to his (O’Gara’s) kicking, my thoughts are that he has been a high class kicker for a long period of time so he certainly knows within himself of where he is at in respect of that part of his job.
“The rest of his game has been excellent, we certainly don’t have any problem at all and we also have the option of other kickers; Paul Warwick kicks goals as well but Ronan will be the best decision-maker in that process.
“We will discuss that but, at the end I think we will leave it up to him; he is the one who certainly knows what he can and can’t do.”
McGahan has wider issues to worry about this weekend in the form of a formidable challenge from a team that appears to be throwing everything into providing a huge European challenge this season.
Stung by an opening round defeat away to Treviso, McGahan wasn’t surprised at Perpignan’s reaction when they beat up Northampton in round two, and beating up teams through forward power is something this French side does particularly well.
“We’re now reaching the point where intensity is going to be huge; we will have to look at all areas of the game and particularly at the areas where contact is made, where intensity usually wins.
“We will be expecting them (Perpignan) to be at their best. They have an extremely good set-piece and will use that anywhere from 20 or 30 metres from the try line.
“They are a very set-piece dominated side and they will try to play the game through the forwards; they play a lot for field position so they kick a lot back in their 40 or 50 (zone), they don’t really play any rugby there at all but their major threat is when they get into the opposition zone and aim to grind you down from there.”
So, McGahan is in no doubt that the battle will rage through the forward packs this Friday and has been working on ways of trying to break down what he described as a powerful and focused defence.
“Our support play will have to be excellent, and we cannot afford to get isolated by running down dead alleys.”
To do that, he conceded there would have to be a huge improvement after a disappointing display against Ospreys last weekend. He highlighted spurned opportunities, lack of concentration and the concession of silly penalties, notably two that led to Denis Fogarty and James Coughlan being sin-binned, as being particularly disappointing.
“You can’t expect to get results when you lose players to the bin. Momentum can swing hugely when you lose a player, you can go from inside the opposition 22 to inside your own, yielding 60, 70 metres easily. We have to make sure that if we are going to let them (Perpignan) out of their 22 that they earn it and that they’re not getting piggy-backed out of there.”
McGahan is aware of Munster’s inspired home record in Europe and equally aware that Perpignan would be one side capable of damaging it. “We all remember that defeat to Leicester and we know what it felt like that evening; we don’t want to endure another situation like it.”
MUNSTER (squad): Forwards: W du Preez, D Hurley, T Buckley, J Hayes, D Fogarty, D Varley, J Flannery, D O’Callaghan, D Ryan, P O’Connell (captain), M O’Driscoll, A Quinlan, N Ronan, D Wallace, D Leamy, J Coughlan.
Backs: F Jones, D Hurley, D Howlett, I Dowling, K Earls, J de Villiers, L Mafi, P Warwick, R O’Gara, T O’Leary, P Stringer.
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