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My Part In Rog’s Ascension

My Part In Rog’s Ascension

In his latest article, Adrian O’Farrell discusses the provinces’ latest outings in Europe and in particular Ronan O’Gara’s ‘absolute cracker’ of a drop goal which guided Munster to another dramatic pool win.

He may be as flinty as granite, but Ronan O’Gara has become a national treasure over his career. He is box office, because you never know what he is going to say, even if you know what he will do at times. And that’s a good thing.

I’ll be upset when Rog hangs up his size 10s, if only because he’s my last, barely tangential playing link to the Ireland team.

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For he is the only player remaining in the squad that I played against. I’m sure he was just out of school as he and Dominic Crotty were outstanding for UCC against my Terenure in an early season friendly.

For a guy who was to become known more for his kicking than his running, let me tell you that as a young man he sure could run! Playing directly opposite him, he was making me look very bad, so I wanted to pulverise him but I never got to lay a finger on him.

So I’m particularly relishing Rog’s subsequent and ongoing contribution to the Munster legend. This surely reached its apogee in the last two weeks with his consecutive last-gasp winning drop goals.

If last week’s against Northampton was more about the team putting him in position after 41 phases (the first 35 of which seemed to be going nowhere), then the one against Castres Olympique was all about the man himself.

From the 10-metre line, the target is a lot smaller and having to allow for a tricky wind, his strike at the Stade Ernest Wallon was an absolute cracker.

He was obviously a bit emotional about it all after the game because he threw in a glorious non-sequitur about Cork and Limerick people having a bit of a chip. And I thought it was a Dublin media invention!

For all that everyone is saying this isn’t a vintage Munster selection, they are digging out points in a manner of which even the great sides would have been proud.

After two rounds this seriously tough pool has been reduced to two teams, with last season’s runners-up (and many commentators’ bet to go one better) and the third-placed team in the Top 14 languishing adrift. The double header between Munster and the thrillingly resurgent Scarlets promises to be a cracker.

Elsewhere, it was disappointing that Toulouse managed to tame the hostile crowd at the Sportsground in Galway straight from the kick-off.

They took an immediate stranglehold and it was apparent within the first five minutes that this was a whole different level for Connacht.

It takes something for experienced pros such as Connacht captain Gavin Duffy to declare that that was like nothing they’ve ever played against.

Especially when you consider that they play regularly against double European champions apiece in Leinster and Munster.

Connacht did better in the second half and there was merit in their penalty try. Good as well to see David McSharry join Eoin Griffin and Tiernan O’Halloran in Connacht’s now-burgeoning production line.

At Welford Road, Ulster were right there until about the 65th minute. It was then that Ian Humphreys missed a bit of a sitter for three points that would have tied things up at 12-12.

Unfortunately he pulled it and almost immediately Leicester proceeded to score a try at the other end, effectively winning the match.

It was a shame as Humphreys had played and kicked well to that point, including a booming 55-metre penalty that cleared the bar with plenty to spare.

Leicester had a slight upper hand up front, where (Marcos) Ayerza had Tom Court in discomfort at times, though Stephen Ferris showed up very well, along with Dan Tuohy who carried indefatigably.

Andrew Trimble wasn’t always perfect but he got involved in everything and carried a threat. I’m not sure that the experiment of playing Simon Danielli at full-back will be repeated, however.

Probably the biggest take from the match for me, however, was the performance of Paul Marshall at scrum half. This guy passes beautifully – quick and accurate. Check out how low his body position is off the pivot foot next time you see him.

Meantime, Leinster did all they needed to do in a deeply impressive first half against Glasgow. While they may have enjoyed some outrageous good fortune in the last minute the previous week against Bath, Glasgow are no mugs and to seal the bonus point in the first half suggests the champions are in rude good health.

Eoin O’Malley’s performance gives Joe Schmidt a nice selection problem in midfield as he and Gordon D’Arcy combined beautifully for his second try.

The match also announced the return to top form of Jamie Heaslip, who was back making big plays – none more so that the superb line he took to set up the position for O’Malley’s first try.

While the second half lacked the pyrotechnics of the first, there was encouragement in the defence and game-time for the likes of Ian Madigan who showed a lovely touch to set up (Isaac) Boss for the fifth try at the death.

So as we assess things after the opening two rounds, Leinster and Munster have reason to be pleased with themselves, while Ulster are certainly still well in the game, though the lack of a bonus point away to Leicester may count against them later.

Connacht will be disappointed that the gulf in budget and class couldn’t be neutralised against Toulouse.

They will have other opportunities to cull something tangible from the tournament and if they can play as they did away to Harlequins then there are definitely some points for them in this toughest of draws.

Back to the bread and butter of the RaboDirect PRO12 then this weekend. But if it’s good enough for Rog, it’s good enough for me.