Blues Talk Blog – Ooh wot a loverly pair of drawers   2 comments

It was a strange weekend for the Leinster and Ireland fan. Leinster won, Ulster and Munster drew and Ronan O’Gara was dropped from the Irish squad.

Leinster picked up a winning bonus point over in Newport in a game that wasn’t televised. Going by Leinster Rugbys excellent Twitter commentary, we started well, dropped off, then picked it up again. Jim was at the match and will be discussing it on this weeks Blues Talk TV. The Dragons have been going through a rough time recently. Setting a new record for the biggest home loss in the Celtic League (in its various guises) was bad enough, but the word on the grapevine is that the cost cutting sights of the WRU are fixed firmly on the Men of Gwent. That would be a pity because despite Newport being no ones idea of an ideal holiday destination Rodney Parade has always been one of the most rambunctious and earthy grounds in the league and Dragons fans have come back year after year no matter how disappointing that which has gone before has been. But what made the weekend strange was not one, but two draws involving Leinsters Pro12 rivals.

Up in Ravenhill on Friday night, Ulster and Benetton Treviso served up an absolute thriller. Both teams were understrength to varying degrees, but neither allowed that to impinge upon the ambition they displayed. Ulster managed to build leads at various times in the match, being 17-3 and 20-10 up, but the leads didn’t reflect the balance of play and Ulster were unable to maintain them. Dean Budds hat-trick try at the death brought the sides level but the missed conversion meant they couldn’t take the win. The draw cost Ulster first place, with Glasgow taking over after a bonus point win against the Blues. Much like the Treviso game, Ulster had built up a huge lead at the top of the Pro12 table, but now, after just two wins from their last five, they’ve slipped to second, level on points with Glasgow (five wins from their last five), and just two points ahead of Leinster (also five from their last five) in third. The Six Nations period can often cause big shifts in the standings, and this year, whilst the positions are not particularly different than before the Spring Internationals, the gap has contracted significantly.

Down in Limerick Munster faced the only team they dislike more than Leinster, the Ospreys. These games are always feisty affairs, with more action off the ball than on it being par for the course, and Saturday night was no different. Whilst the end result was the same, the game couldn’t have been more different than the previous nights fare in Belfast. The Ulster – Treviso game had two teams who were going out to play rugby and if there were errors being made, they were errors caused by ambition. Munster and The Ospreys went out to grind each other down and not lose. The game was error strewn, and unlike in Belfast, they were errors of competence. Again, the draw was the fair result, both teams being as bad as each other.

This weekend also saw the latest instalment in Declan Kidneys increasingly bizarre talent show – ‘Out-half Factor’. In this show, three out-halfs go head to head in different games to win the approval of Simon Cowe…sorry, the Irish coach. The coach will then look at the performances and make a selection based on almost anything else. This weeks episode was an absolute humdinger. Plucky old-timer O’Gara took on the young blades Madigan and Jackson, and despite doing what he’s been doing for the last number of years, the same way hes always done it to retain his place in the Irish squad, he was booted out of the Big Brother house (well Carton House actually) without a ‘by your leave’. This of course presents a major problem for the gentlemen of the Irish media. For so long have O’Gara and Kidney been as one in their minds, and for last year or two they’ve spent metres of column space and a small rain forests worth of paper defending both, or either, because to defend one is to defend the other. Now what do they do? They are going to have to pick a side – this should be interesting.

Joking aside, is this the last of Rog in the green of Ireland? Probably. Should it be? Again, probably. Should it have ended like this? Most certainly not. ideally Rog should have retired from International duty after the 2011 Rugby World Cup where he could enjoy the plaudits his many years in the Irish jersey have earned him. His heated outburst after the Australian game however, where he said he was going to do so ironically meant that he couldn’t. Unless you’re Kevin Keegan you don’t go out on an emotional post match interview in the heat of the moment.

For me, it all started to come apart for O’Gara in the 61st minute of the Heineken Cup semi-final in 2009. O’Gara always had a small tell in his skip pass – a little double pump before release than no one really noticed until then. One person had noticed however, ironically one of his best friends on and off the pitch, and O’Driscolls intercept try laid it bare in one of the sports biggest games for the whole rugby world to see. It might seem like a small thing, but think back to O’Gara in his pomp for Ireland or Munster.

A favourite move of both teams when in their own third of the field, from the mind of Alan Gaffney, was a skip pass off quick ball (preferably off the top line out ball) where O’Gara hit the player in the outside centre slot (usually after the actual 13 running a dummy inside line to create a gap for the 12 drifting outside him) with an bullet to put him through that gap. it worked time and time again, and like Gaffneys loop play so loved by a succession of Leinster outhalfs was very difficult to either predict or stop. With that pass taken out of the equation though, teams with O’Gara at the helm found themselves limited and the player himself seemed to be hesitant when required to move the ball. And whilst his kicking game was still as long and accurate as before, changes to both the laws, and the way the laws were to be applied, especially at the breakdown, meant that all a kicking game really did was give the ball back to the opposition, and if they were any way competent, they weren’t likely to return the favour.

If this is the end for O’Gara, then a look back at his career numbers is monumentally impressive. He is Irelands second most capped player of all time and the record holder for Irish caps. He has been on three Lions tours, won two Heineken Cups, three Celtic Leagues, a Celtic Cup, a Grand Slam/6 Nations Championship and 4 triple crowns along with setting so many records for points scored that I can’t be arsed listing them all.

There may have been ‘better’ Irish Out-halfs, but there has never been a greater Irish Out-half.

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2 responses to “Blues Talk Blog – Ooh wot a loverly pair of drawers

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  1. Great article. What law changes do you perceive to have effected him so much ? Kinda lost on that point

    • Hi Eoghan, thanks for reading… I think the law changes (or rather the change in emphasis in the application of the laws) around the breakdown had a huge effect on his game, in that kicking to touch for field position became a losing strategy. Unless you were dominant at the breakdown, it was going to be a while before you saw the ball again, and the changes meant that Munsters previously ferocious breakdown work was legislated out of the game. Posession is now 9/10s of the Laws!

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