ENGLAND legend, Dean Richards, believes Ronan O’Gara should be the Lions test-match out-half against South Africa this summer, describing the Munster and Ireland No 10 as someone who can deliver in high pressure situations.
O’Gara has figured on two previous Lions squads — to Australia in 2001 and New Zealand in 2005 — but the Cork man has yet to make a test match XV for the tourists.
However, after displaying an ice-cool nerve with a drop goal to win Ireland the Grand Slam last month and then rack up seven straight successive kicks for Munster in last weekend’s 43-9 win over Ospreys, O’Gara appears to be ahead of other likely contenders Stephen Jones, James Hook and Danny Cipriani for the coveted Lions No 10 test shirt.
The current Harlequins boss, still reeling after his side’s 6-5 loss to Leinster last weekend, also reckons Dwayne Peel would make an ideal half-back partner for O’Gara.
Richards says O’Gara’s provincial and national half-back team-mate, Tomas O’Leary, should also be considered by Lions head coach Ian McGeechan, who next Tuesday announces his 36-man squad and tour captain for the 10-game trek across South Africa.
“O’Gara has shown in the big games — take the grand-slam decider against Wales last month — that he can perform under pressure,” said Richards. “He even showed, on that occasion, that he could go from indifferent to good within the space of one game and there is the possibility that he would be playing with some familiar faces outside him.
“I’d go for Ronan O’Gara ahead of Stephen Jones, even though Stephen played well when he was given the opportunity for the 2005 Lions.”
Richards believes McGeechan is likely to go for the safer option at outside half rather take a punt on a risk-taker, such as mercurial Wasps and England No 10 Cipriani, whose chances of travelling to South Africa have greatly diminished, having played no part in this year’s RBS 6 Nations.
“There are two ways of looking at it,” Richards wrote in London’s The Times newspaper. “Do you go for players who won’t let you down, or do you go for risk-takers? And do you take two fly halves and a third player comfortable at fly half or inside centre? Danny Cipriani is someone who falls into the risk-taker category, but you also have to remember something I mentioned at the start of this series, that you need people who are good tourists, and I don’t know if Danny comes into that class.
“There is no doubt that he is someone who, on a fast track, he could make a difference, provided his game is on song, but he is not playing as well as he can. As a consequence, it would be a real gamble to take him, but you have to say that those who work with him day in, day out, like Geech and Shaun Edwards, would know best how to handle him.
“I think that Geech will go for the safer option, with players like O’Gara and Jones, where he knows exactly what he will get, with James Hook as back-up, although the Ospreys have not given him a great platform in recent weeks. And if the “odd couple” of (Matt) Dawson and (Gregor) Townsend could win a series 12 years ago [in South Africa], lightning could strike twice.”
Richards nominates Peel as his test scrum half even though the Welsh international has enjoyed little game-time under Warren Gatland over the course of the last two seasons.
“To my mind, Dwayne Peel is as good a scrum half as any, with the two Englishmen, Harry Ellis and Danny Care, behind him. He may not have been first choice for Wales this year, but Dwayne knows what a Lions tour is like and his skill set is greater than that of Mike Phillips, who may be first choice if the Lions want to play an intensely physical game.”
He added that O’Leary has an outside chance of making McGeechan’s Lions XV for the first test against South Africa in Durban on June 20.
“You could throw in Tomás O’Leary’s name, too. He benefits from having played in a successful national and provincial set-up.”
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