Right on cue Ronan O’Gara gets the man of the match award against Russia as his tussle with Jonny Sexton takes on soap opera status. As his name was read over the PA near the end of tonight’s game the man next to me asked, not entirely free of irony: ‘You think Rog might show up in the mixed zone?’
I suggested that he might bypass the shower and go straight there to be waiting for us when we were done with our reports. The mixed zone is a post match feeding frenzy where players are fed into the pit filled with hacks looking for quotes. As you can imagine, if you’ve not had a great day out then this is not somewhere you’d want to be.
O’Gara has had a few good days out lately. But mindful of the reaction to his last spin here, he took his time about coming in. A man of his experience knows just how to play it, so Sean Cronin, Jamie Heaslip, Paddy Wallace, Andrew Trimble and Fergus McFadden were all out front by the time Rog showed.
The way it worked out, pretty much all the hacks were engaged with other clients when O’Gara came through. So when you see the man you want, here are your choices: drop the person you’re talking to like a hot snot, or casually make a retreat and double around to where the target is headed.
As luck would have it I was just wrapping up with another mark when he came out and by the time I got to him he was yapping with a World Cup work experience employee – well that’s how it looked – to whom he was being very courteous.
He loves this. Especially when he’s played well. And when he’s on song he makes absolute sense, for when O’Gara talks rugby in the right setting he is always worth listening to.
“I think the more we consider rugby then everything is at the breakdown,” he responds, to the suggestion that Ireland were slow to apply numbers here, which only encouraged the Russians. “That’s very much to the fore in the management’s mind and the players as well. It seems that all games are decided there and if you get that right you’ve a good chance to win a game, statistically as well as physically.”
Ireland were woeful here for much of the contest, reminding us of the warm-up game in Bordeaux where they gave France a free ride and paid through the nose for it.
And after the breakdown, it helps to kick your goals? “I missed one after I fell in love with myself when kicking one from the touchline so I can’t do that again.”
This is O’Gara letting us know that he’s not perfect. But compared to Jonny Sexton at the minute his goal-kicking is making life very uncomfortable for Declan Kidney. It helped neither Sexton nor Kidney that the Leinster outhalf missed a conversion he really wanted to get, the add-ons for Tony Buckley’s try -Ireland’s ninth.
In the context of the game it meant nothing. In the battle of the 10s however it was more ground gained by the man Kidney really does not want to pick. We’re off to Dunedin in the morning for what looks like being a very interesting week.