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O’Gara Ready For Jones Battle

O’Gara Ready For Jones Battle

Ronan O’Gara is relishing the chance to pit his wits against Wales captain Stephen Jones, a player he will also be in direct combat with in the Heineken Cup’s knockout stages.

O’Gara will face his Lions colleague Jones in Sunday’s Six Nations opener, as well as in March’s Heineken Cup quarter-final between Munster and the Llanelli Scarlets.

The battle at number 10 is sure to be key in deciding whether Wales or Ireland get off to a winning start in a World Cup-dominated year.

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The last time O’Gara and Jones duelled at the Millennium Stadium, the venue for this weekend’s clash, the Welshman took the plaudits as he booted the Dragons to a Grand Slam-clinching victory. 2003’s meeting went O’Gara’s way as he slotted over an injury-time drop goal in a 25-24 Irish win.

Whatever happens on Sunday, O’Gara will continue to be a fan of Jones’ game.

“I admire Stephen hugely – I think he’s a great player and his track record down the years proves that,” the Munster out-half admitted.

“On the field there’s obviously competition when it comes to the Lions tour and things like that, but just because he is going for the same position doesn’t mean we can’t get on.

“Obviously the two of us know where the line is and we just work within that. He’s intelligent, has a positive outlook on the game and mentally he’s sharp. He’s a team player. All the fellas around him play for him and that’s a sign of a popular fella within a team.”

Offering a modest assessment of his own game, the 2005 and 2006 Six Nations’ top scorer added: “Things are going alright for me but I’m a small little cog in the machine…I hope not insignificant! That’s the beauty about team sports, isn’t it? Some days you’re not going to have 15 fellas playing at the top of their game. It’s a team effort and we need it for this campaign.”

If O’Gara and company can make a triumphant return to the Millennium Stadium, the scene of Munster’s Heineken Cup final win last May, Ireland will then face into back-to-back home clashes against France and England with renewed confidence.

The fact that those games are being held at Croke Park, creating history in more ways than one, will only add to the clamour for Eddie O’Sullivan’s team to make 2007 the year that ends Ireland’s championship famine.

Having graced the Croke Park turf for a short time last week, O’Gara said: “The surface was good. All the boys were changing studs and checking what suited them.

“I’ve only probably taken 20 kicks there, so I can’t really comment on it. It was a little bit different to a normal pitch, in terms of trying to get a spot to focus on behind the posts.

“Croke Park’s for next week though,” he warned. “We know if we don’t perform against Wales, some people might not get to play the next game there.”