RONAN O’GARA launches his bid to regain his Irish team place at the Liberty Stadium, Swansea, on Saturday evening when Munster take on the Ospreys in the Magners League.
O’Gara knows he needs to produce a few stellar performances over the coming weeks if he hopes to claim the number 10 jersey back from Jonathan Sexton.
In his favour is the fact that Munster’s difficult assignment on Saturday is immediately followed by the all-important back to back Heineken Cup matches against Perpignan.
If he can reproduce his best form in those games, he will go a long way towards convincing national coach Declan Kidney that he is still the best man to fill the out-half slot come the start of the Six Nations in February.
Last night, Munster coach Tony McGahan gave O’Gara a vote of confidence having watched him at close quarters and spoken to him during the squad’s two-day camp at Ballykisteen Hotel and Golf Resort and Clanwilliam RFC.
“His interaction straight back with the coaches and the players has been absolutely outstanding,” said McGahan. “He’s come back with a real sense of purpose that he has always had but even more so now. He’s very eager to be successful with Munster and very eager to make sure all his energies are put into being the best number 10 he can be.
“When the team has been successful, more times than not Ronan has been to the forefront and we expect him to be no different this time.”
The widely held belief that O’Gara is never better than when the pressure is at its greatest will certainly be tested over the coming weeks now that his ownership of the Ireland out-half jersey has been challenged.
A major part of that rehabilitation process is his goal kicking. The statistics so far this season suggest his percentage is not as good as usual and certainly Jonny Sexton’s 12 out of 14 in the games against Fiji and South Africa demonstrates the size of his task.
“As a kicker, you really understand the way you kick and if things aren’t working, you change them and the ability to change that is probably the biggest challenge for players at this level,” McGahan said.
“Ronan has worked with Mark Tainton and David Alred, two kicking coaches, and he knows himself where he needs to go. He hasn’t been far off the mark and hopefully we will score enough tries to give him plenty of shorts at goal.”
Prop Wian du Preez joined up with Munster on Monday after his involvement with South Africa over the past few weeks and, according to McGahan, “without a doubt, he will be in the squad on Saturday” along with fellow Springbok Jean De Villiers and a whole host of Irish players after the November internationals.
The only absentees are hooker Jerry Flannery, who is nursing a badly bruised nose and Denis Leamy, who is still recovering from the ankle injury sustained against Fiji.
Leamy has to be regarded as a major doubt for Friday week’s Heineken Cup clash with Perpignan at Thomond Park.
However Marcus Horan is back with the squad after his recent medical procedure. He has been doing aerobic and small weights training but no contact or field work with McGahan estimating that it will be late January before he is ready to play again.
McGahan, whose contract was extended a further two years earlier this week, looked back on the past month’s activities with real satisfaction.
“The internationals have come off an excellent autumn series and we’re delighted for their success as a team and individuals,’’ he said. “Munster A have also performed very well, winning their two matches in the B & I Cup and we’ve had guys in the Ireland A side that had good wins over Tonga and Argentina.’’
Munster squad: forwards: D Fogarty, D Varley, W du Preez, T Buckley, J Hayes, D O’Callaghan, D Ryan, P O’Connell, M O’Driscoll, A Quinlan, N Ronan, D Wallace, J Coughlan, N Williams; backs: T O’Leary, P Stringer, R O’Gara, P Warwick, L Mafi, J de Villiers, D Howlett, I Dowling, K Earls, D Hurley, F Jones.
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