After taking a few hits as a player in New Zealand and later playing with the Crusaders, who are no strangers to dishing out their fair share of penalties, Ronan O’Gara has seen both sides of the coin.
The dust has barely settled on the Six Nations and attention is already turning to this summer’s tour, when Ireland will attempt to do what no Irish team has done before – win on New Zealand soil.
While the aura around the All Blacks may have faded a little after Ireland’s three wins in recent years, they’ve never managed to beat them in their own backyard.
That and not reaching a World Cup quarter-finals remain the two big black spots against Ireland, but Andy Farrell has a chance to rectify that from this summer.
Ireland will take on the All Blacks in a three Test series, with two games against the Maori All Blacks also in the proposed planning process.
It promises to be a grueling tour, but as O’Gara puts it, the story beckons to this Irish team who will be traveling Down Under and feeling it’s certainly good enough to get one of the two monkeys off their back get what would be a big boost until next year’s World Cup in France.
“There’s a huge carrot for this Irish team going to New Zealand with the prospect of winning a series,” says O’Gara.
“If they don’t win a series, they have the prospect of winning a test match. “These are all firsts, they’ve never been done before. So they’re going to make history, which makes the opportunity huge for this group of players and staff.
“For me, there are so many different stories or different images that you can use to create an eventful month.”
This thematic work was one of the most important things O’Gara took away from his successful two-year stint with the Crusaders under Scott Robertson, whose goal is to become the next All Blacks boss.
O’Gara uses some of the same techniques in his current role as La Rochelle head coach and he warned that New Zealand will be particularly well-equipped for Ireland as both teams will be at very different stages of their seasons.
“I probably see it completely differently now,” says the ex-Münster Ireland full-back. “My interpreter went there in June. It was dark until 10 a.m. and it got dark again at 4 p.m. It was raining and it was raining heavily.
“But after you’ve spent two years there, you see it very, very differently, of course.
“They get good weather but the way the calendar or games are suggested Ireland goes there in June which is a severe winter for them,” O’Gara adds.
“It will probably be wet rugby on good pitches. If not, it will be cold. But what happened in my season was the end of a long season.
Player management and player welfare was good in our time, I make no apologies on that score, but now you’ve almost got Club Ireland on the importance of the World Cup.
“It also happens in the French game, it’s Club France. They spend so much time together that what matters in the mindset of a (Gregory) Alldritt or Uini Atonio or a Tadhg Furlong or a Bundee Aki? It’s the test calendar.
“That’s what the best players want. They want to prioritize, and rightly so, play for their country and then play the Champions Cup and then after that, it’s uncompromising because there’s the top 14 that’s taken very seriously.
“In Ireland it is the URC where top players play very rarely and there is a reason for that.
“But it was difficult in June because Super Rugby’s New Zealand top teams come into their Test campaign and are usually done by October.
“So this is the start of their testing window. They are fresh and they are hungry. They look forward to new prey coming into their territory.
“But saying that, there have been numerous occasions where we could have gotten the job done, but we didn’t.”
The All Blacks have yet to gain a foothold under Ian Foster, which may be why Joe Schmidt was recruited to the backroom team.
Schmidt’s presence this summer will add another layer of intrigue to a mouth-watering tour.
“They’re doing well, but I would say inside they’re not happy with what they’re doing,” adds O’Gara.
“It wasn’t that they were comprehensively beaten by France and comprehensively beaten by Ireland, I think it was more the nature of those performances that makes them question a little bit about their game. That’s probably the key point for me.
“I think what has definitely reduced in the meantime was the standard.
“The Northern Hemisphere has made huge leaps and bounds in terms of skill levels. With the data available, the rugby world has become very small and people are analyzing each other’s play.
“I think what’s definitely become part of that over the last three years is that there’s very little between teams.”
https://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/international-rugby/new-zealand-tour-is-a-huge-opportunity-for-irish-ogara-41481528.html “New Zealand tour is a huge opportunity for Irishmen” – O’Gara