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Ireland at the 2019 Rugby World Cup

We Owe Ourselves A Big Performance Says O’Gara

We Owe Ourselves A Big Performance Says O’Gara

Record-breaking out-half Ronan O’Gara knows it will be make or break time for Ireland at Stade de France on Friday as they look to use the obvious frustration from their poor displays against Namibia and Georgia to their advantage.

If Ireland beat the World Cup hosts in Saint Denis, then they are through to the quarter-finals – it is as simple as that. The Irish will not be struggling for motivation on Friday. They have lost five games on the trot to France, including last February’s historic and ultimately heartbreaking clash at Croke Park.

Agreeing that the team is “hurting” after “a disappointing few weeks”, O’Gara said: “We can’t be too down – there’s nothing fatal at the moment. We’re second in the pool with nine points. We should be excited by this, we’ve got to do the business this weekend. If we don’t we’ll be going home early.

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“Friday’s a huge game. We’re fully aware of what’s at stake and hopefully it’s the game that will kickstart our campaign. If it doesn’t, then the likelihood is we’ll be heading home. We owe ourselves a big performance.”

While the Irish team’s form has come under increased scrutiny, so too has O’Gara’s. But the Munster number 10, who was the subject of a scurrilous and wildly inaccurate article in French newspaper L’Equipe yesterday, was having none of it.

“It’s 100 per cent inaccurate to say I’m struggling. People may say my body language isn’t like normal but that’s the opinion of individuals. There are all kinds of rumours going around that I’m troubled, cranky and that there’s lots of fighting going on – but that’s all rubbish,” he said.

“I care so much about our performance in the team. Maybe I’m a little bit negative talking to the press but when I get on the pitch I’m excited, I enjoy it and I realise what people would give to wear the green number 10 shirt.”

Replying to a question about his demeanour on the pitch during the tournament, he insisted: “Just because you see me barking at fellas, that’s my natural competitive game. I never play with a smile on my face. But ask the forwards, ask the centres – they know me well enough at this stage to see that it’s the same person that always is and always will be.”

One big change for O’Gara for the French game will be that his long-time half-back partner, Munster scrum half Peter Stringer, has been dropped from the matchday squad.

O’Gara will be partnered by Wasps clubman Eoin Reddan instead and the experienced Corkman sees no problem with that or the two other changes made to the side that edged out Georgia 14-10 last weekend.

“The team has been shook up and a different side that has never played for Ireland will be taking the pitch on Friday. There are no fellas on the team who shouldn’t be there. Eddie (O’Sullivan) has the pick of whoever he wants every week.

“I don’t look upon it as a risk…bringing Eoin in. He’s a a good quality player. I didn’t play much with him at Munster because he never featured with me when he was there – he was in the background a lot. But I know him quite well,” admitted O’Gara, who has made 52 Test starts for Ireland alongside Stringer.

“Eoin’s been exceptional for Wasps and deserves his chance. He could excite the back-line. There should be a change of emphasis because he is obviously a different scrum-half to Strings. There won’t have been much analysis done on him, I hope, so it could be interesting.

“It’s a huge game for him but the same was probably said for the Wasps-Leinster Heineken Cup game last season. He was playing against Chris Whitaker and didn’t have any problems that day.

“He’s waited for this chance for a long, long time. Mentally he’s very prepared for it. It’s not going to come down to how Eoin and myself perform – it’s a team game.”

The last time Ireland played France, O’Gara was also partnered by a different scrum half in Ulster’s Isaac Boss. Ireland may have lost that day at Croke Park, but O’Gara scored all of Ireland’s 17 points and insists that being paired with a different number 9 is not an issue for him.

“My view is that sometimes the half-back combination is overplayed. It sometimes suits people to talk about us (O’Gara and Stringer) as a pair but, essentially, it’s not like that. I don’t think it will be any different on Friday.

“On two Lions tours (in 2001 and 2005), I played with different scrum-halves and gelled quite quickly, so that isn’t an issue for me at all. I’d like to be judged on how I perform, not on how well the half-backs perform. Obviously it’s up to the individual to get it right.”