Click here for photos of Ireland out-half Ronan O’Gara at Friday’s kicking practice at Eden Park in Auckland.
Pictured above: Ireland out-half Ronan O’Gara watches the flight of a ball during kicking practice at Auckland’s Eden Park stadium on Friday.
O’Gara is just one of the players that Ireland full-back Geordan Murphy is thankful he has back on his side after a season of playing against his Irish team mates for Leicester Tigers.
Murphy explained: “A lot of the times in Europe I get to play against my Irish team mates when I’m playing for Leicester, and when I play for Ireland I get to face my Leicester team mates who play for England. It’s a strange one, I’m constantly playing against guys I know pretty well, but it’s pretty enjoyable and it’s always good after the game.”
Previewing Saturday’s second Test against the All Blacks, the Kildare man added: “We’re on a long, long losing streak against the Kiwis now, which is a pretty big monkey on our back. We have to win at some stage, whether it’s this team or another team down the line. At some stage we know an Irish team will win and we’d certainly love it to be this one.”
Centre Gordon D’Arcy, the man on O’Gara’s shoulder in midfield tomorrow, is showing signs of the 2004 form which saw him help Ireland to the Triple Crown.
The Wexford man, who put in a confident display against the All Blacks last week, said: “I’m up to about 32 or 33 games this season, so that’s a hell of a lot more experience coming down here (to New Zealand) than six games last year, two of this for my club Lansdowne.
“I’m a lot happier physically and comfortable in the team the way we’re playing out here. There’s no camparison (to last year), I’m really, really happy how I’m playing at the moment.”
D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll face a mouth-watering centre battle with Crusaders duo Aaron Mauger and Casey Laulala, whose first and only Test cap to date came against Wales in November 2004.
On the subject of youngster Laulala, D’Arcy admitted: “I’ve heard a lot of reports about him and he’s very highly rated so he’ll get the exact amount of respect he deserves. He’s a different player to Ma’a. Probably my shoulder won’t be as sore this week but that doesn’t mean I’m going to treat him with any less respect.”
All Blacks backs coach Wayne Smith is hopeful that Ireland’s “rush defence” will not have as much say tomorrow as it did during the first Test in Hamilton.
Smith said: “The rushing defence is just something you have to get more used to playing against. The Springboks obviously use it all the time and Waikato used it during the NPC last year. It’s just more time in the saddle to get used to it.”
It is hard to imagine but it is almost five years ago to the day that Ronan O’Gara was on the receiving end of several punches by Duncan McRae during the infamous Lions v NSW Waratahs clash on the 2001 tour to Australia.
Current New Zealand coach Graham Henry, the then Lions supremo, said of the incident: “O’Gara had absolutely no idea why he was attacked so violently. It was a bad day for rugby. I thought the game had been cleaned up, but this was a shambles.” New South Wales full-back McRae received only a seven-week ban as a result of the sickening attack. He retired from rugby in March after a persistent knee injury ruined his three-year stay at English club Gloucester.
**All photos by Billy Stickland of Inpho Photography**