Ronan O’Gara loved what he saw from Ireland against Japan last weekend and the shot in the arm it gave to him and fellow supporters of the national side yet he is no doubt the real barometer of the team’s status comes Saturday against New Zealand.
The attacking verve displayed by Andy Farrell’s men in a nine-try, 60-5 demolition of the Brave Blossoms at Aviva Stadium four days ago came as a breath of fresh air to the former Munster, Ireland and British & Irish Lions fly-half whose heart had sunk at the drudgery of the fare dished out during the summer series between Warren Gatland’s Lions and South Africa.
The first 40-minute performance against Japan as Ireland jumped into a 29-0 lead has convinced O’Gara that head coach Farrell now has the team and the attacking mindset to not only start against New Zealand this Saturday but also build towards the 2023 World Cup. Yet there are still a number of boxes to tick if the Irish are to finally break through the quarter-final barrier and reach a first semi-final.
Getting the strength in depth, particularly at fly-half, to keep that starting team on its toes and those players outside it gunning for places will be a key component of Farrell’s job over the next two years but the Corkman believes Ireland are heading in the right direction and have a decent shot at securing a third win in five meetings against the All Blacks.
“I think before Japan it was put on record that there was an emphasis on the World Cup and then all of a sudden after the weekend it’s been ‘okay, this is the team’,” O’Gara said yesterday in his role as an ambassador for Irish menswear company Benetti.
“I think as an ex-player what disappoints me the most would probably be the under-performance at World Cups. We’re stars at getting it right between cycles but never right on the cycle that matters so that will have to be something that has to be reviewed but maybe the fact that (the performance against) Japan went much better than anticipated, you go extremely strong for New Zealand and then see where you are.
“If you manage to get a result against New Zealand then you’re probably looking at a clean sweep and world-ranking points but I don’t think that’s of any interest between World Cups.
“What is interesting would be, I suppose who’s the second-choice 10. The World Cup is 24 months away, that’s a long time for this team, irrespective of how they did against Japan. Japan isn’t the barometer and I think you’ll get a real gauge this weekend of where Ireland are from a tactical point of view but also from a performance point of view, because I was certainly underwhelmed with the Lions series. I was left extremely frustrated through the summer.
“But, to see how Ireland played at the weekend caught me by surprise and it gave me huge optimism to watch this team going forward.