O’Gara: No hiding place for our rookies

It’s survival of the fittest. That’s the challenge in every park in New Zealand you play in and that’s why they’re called Test matches

Ronan O’Gara has challenged Ireland’s inexperienced tourists to prove themselves at international level when the national team takes on world champions New Zealand in their own backyard next month.

Ireland leave London today en route to Auckland with the first of three Tests at Eden Park a week on Saturday. Declan Kidney yesterday did his best to fill the remaining vacancies on the 29-man squad following Tuesday’s 29-28 defeat to the Barbarians at Gloucester, but there are still vacancies with Paul O’Connell and Mike Ross the chief injury concerns.

Back row Chris Henry and loosehead prop Brett Wilkinson both had their places confirmed having come through the Baa-Baas game following recent injuries and they were joined in the touring party by second row Mike McCarthy, who will travel as precautionary cover for O’Connell.

The Munster lock is continuing his recovery in London from a knee injury suffered on May 5 and a final decision on his participation against the All Blacks will be made tomorrow.

Ulster scrum-half Paul Marshall and Connacht prop Ronan Loughney, providing further front row cover with Ross recovering from a hamstring strain, will also board the plane, two of six uncapped players in the squad, while several others have fewer than 10 caps.

“It’s a challenge and it brings out the best in people,” O’Gara said of the upcoming three-Test series. “It’s survival of the fittest. That’s the challenge in every park in New Zealand you play in and that’s why they’re called Test matches.

” It’s easy to perform at club level but this is a completely different level. That’s what people don’t understand. This is a whole new level and that’s why you admire fellas who have proven themselves year after year at international level and we’re going to need every one down there. It’s a tough place to go but it can bring out the best in you too.”

O’Gara led an inexperienced Ireland XV against a Barbarians side captained by fellow Cork man and soon to retire team-mate Mick O’Driscoll, an experience the veteran fly-half described as “very interesting”, particularly with reference to the lock’s vocal contribution at Kingsholm.

“I don’t think in all his career, in all his games with Munster, he’s had a bigger influence on a ref than he had Tuesday night,” O’Gara said with a laugh. “I’ll have to have a word with him because he worked his magic there. But it was great. It was nice walking out the tunnel, both teams came out together and Micko has a lot to offer but he’s called in on his terms and with the way we finished against the Ospreys it was nice for him to banish that and have a game like this he can sleep on, the memory of leading the Baa-Baas.

“I was captain of Ireland and very proud to be. It was very important to have got the win but I can live with the fact that Micko, as a friend and as a team-mate got what he deserves out of rugby, finally.”


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