Wales 15-17 Ireland, Six Nations Championship, March 21
O'Gara proves he can handle pressure
March 22, 2009
Ireland fly-half Ronan O'Gara slots the Grand Slam-winning drop goal at the Millennium Stadium © Getty Images
Ireland fly-half Ronan O'Gara was delighted to silence his critics with a Six Nations Grand Slam-clinching drop goal against Wales in Cardiff.
O'Gara's ability to handle the pressure of the big occasion had been called into question in the lead-up to Ireland's historic 17-15 triumph at the Millennium Stadium but the Munster No.10 responded by kicking his side to glory.
The Munster fly-half had clearly been targeted with Wales seeking to expose his defensive frailties but he dusted himself off to slot two conversions and set up the second try for Tommy Bowe before taking a lead role in a dramatic finale.
Wales fly-half Stephen Jones kicked a drop goal to put the hosts ahead with the clock running down but he went from hero to villain by clearing directly into touch moments later. The following passage of play saw O'Gara land the match-winning drop goal but Ireland had to withstand one last surge from Wales and a penalty attempt from Jones that dropped agonisingly short.
"There will always be people who crack under pressure but I won two European Cup finals under pressure," O'Gara said. "None of those Welsh fellas who were talking have played in European Cup finals.
"They talked the talk all week but didn't walk it so I'm particularly happy about that. I had a few errors in the first half. I screwed one or two kicks over and took some banter but you expect that. I got my head down at half-time to figure out how I could make an impact and things worked out. I enjoyed the second half."
O'Gara knew his all-important kick would split the uprights.
"David Wallace was lined up to carry and once you see him carrying you know the ball was going to come back," he said. "I had my point picked out but once we got in from five metres Rory Best decided to get involved.
"The passing channel was blocked so I was roaring at him to get out of the way. I felt they were well offside but there was no way the referee was going to award a penalty so I just had to get the ball up as opposed to drive it up.
"I was very confident - I had the right imagery and visualised the kick going over."
However, the 32-year-old was equally convinced that Jones had been successful with his dramatic penalty attempt on the last kick of the game. But his effort fell inches short of the uprights to the glee of Ireland's players who began their Grand Slam celebrations as soon as Geordan Murphy sent the ball dead.
"I thought Stephen would get it. He'd been kicking well but fatigue sets in and the body's battered after 80 minutes," said O'Gara. "It was a tough kick. I thought it was over and I had pictures of us walking into the changing rooms beaten. These are the fine lines.
"I went up to Stephen afterwards because I know how he'll feel - he'll be seen as the fella who missed the kick but that's not necessarily fair because it was a tough kick.
"I missed a kick to win a European Cup final against Northampton so I wanted to go up to him. Of all the Welsh people he was the one who was most respectful in the week. He spoke intelligently. I've had good battles with him for 10 years and admire him as a pro.
"It's important to me that when I hang up my boots I have a few friendships with other fellas from different countries."
The result ended Ireland's 61-year wait for the Grand Slam and O'Gara was delighted by the conclusion of a torrid 18 months that reached its nadir at the 2007 Rugby World Cup.
"It's good to get the monkey off our backs. There are quality players in this team and we needed that to build our credibility," he said. "As time goes on we've felt that we've needed something. This team hasn't thought about the misery of the World Cup but it was an awful time.
"We've worked hard to get this side where it belongs and there a fair amount of pride in this jersey now. That was probably missing in the past but it was a very happy dressing room and the fellas are very proud to represent the country.
"I'm realistic - if we hadn't won it this time I don't think there would have been a next year."
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