ROG raises bar for Munster players

Munster’s players must beat Leinster, win silverware and be 30% better than the incumbents to force Ireland coach Joe Schmidt to pick them, according to Ronan O’Gara.

Just Paul O’Connell, Conor Murray and Peter O’Mahony from the Munster camp have been used by the former Leinster head coach in Ireland’s three Six Nations games so far. When O’Gara lined out against Italy in 2010 he had provincial colleagues in Tomás O’Leary, Jerry Flannery, John Hayes, Donncha O’Callaghan, Paul O’Connell and David Wallace alongside him. However the Six Nations record points scorer believes Munster have got to prove their ability to a man who does not know them as intimately as the starting players.

“I think Keith Earls when he’s fit will be in there,” he said at yesterday’s Irish Examiner sports breakfast.

“Simon Zebo will be close to it. Dave Kilcoyne, James Cronin... there’s a lot of lads knocking on the door. You need to be 30% better than the incumbents at the moment. Jack McGrath has done well for Leinster. [Joe] Schmidt has faith in these guys because he’s seen them deliver. He knows them better than me. If the Munster performances keep going the wheel will turn but they’ll need to beat Leinster and they’ll need to win things before they get the 50-50 calls.”

O’Gara has been enduring a testing time in his debut coaching season with struggling Racing Metro. However he conceded that staying with Munster would have cocooned him from the fast-track learning experience he is undergoing in Paris.

“I only knew the Munster way and I know the Irish camp fairly well,” he said.

“It’s so different. Rugby here is a passion for the players but in France it’s a career. You clock in and clock out. It’s interesting looking at the different mindsets of what happens. There’s massive accountability in Ireland to perform while in France there’s 65 million people and the club sides are not really too well known, especially in Paris, so there’s complete anonymity for the club players.”

There were times when he felt like packing it in and returning: “You kind of question yourself. I remember I didn’t shower after one of the games. I just threw on the tracksuit and runners and got into my car. I was halfway home and I was wondering ‘what am I doing this for? I don’t really know these guys’.

“But I think when you’re competitive if you sign up to something you give it your best shot. That’s where I am but it’s hugely frustrating. You’re kind of losing a game away from home and you’re on the bus and within 30 minutes there’s laughter on the bus whereas if that was Ireland or Munster you wouldn’t hear a pin drop for the journey home. If a fella dropped the ball there’d be lads looking giving silent daggers thinking ‘this guy cost us the game’. In France the headphones are on and they’re playing games on their phones.”

On the contrary he feels the Irish team came in for too much criticism following their defeat to England.

“I’d be astounded with the analysis after the event,

“There were very minimal deficiencies but now it’s all doom and gloom.

Home advantage is huge. This English team play for each other, which they haven’t done for a long, long time. I think they had to win.

“Ireland were on the cusp of something special because I believe if they won that they were going to win the Grand Slam.

“In the last two years playing against England I’ve never seen a team like them put pressure on nine and 10. That’s not me saying that for a lot of sub-standard performances but I’m interested to see how Andy Farrell works. Defensively he’s got the leading edge on defensive coaches and whatever he has for hounding nines and 10s he does that very well.

“I think England rattled Conor [Murray] and Johnny [Sexton]. I’ve been told many times by a certain coach that those little chip kicks are high risk stuff. But that’s hindsight. We’re all experts watching the game on tv.”


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