O'Gara bounces back in style
March 14, 2009
Ronan O'Gara and Peter Stringer celebrate Ireland's win © Getty Images
Ireland coach Declan Kidney refused to consider the Grand Slam despite today's 22-15 Six Nations victory over Scotland at Murrayfield.
The Irish head to Cardiff next Saturday needing a win to complete their first clean sweep since 1948 while champions Wales will be gunning for the title. "We managed to win a game today. Let's see what happens. We have to play Wales in Cardiff which is a very difficult thing to do," said Kidney.
"We want to celebrate this night and we'll start looking at Wales during the week. It's a craic and that's how we'll treat this week. That's the way we've treated it all the way through."
Ireland trailed 12-9 at the interval to four Chris Paterson penalties but should have been further behind given Scotland's control of the first half. However, a 50th-minute try from Jamie Heaslip saw the pendulum swing in Ireland's favour with the boot of Ronan O'Gara closing out the victory.
"In the first half we conceded a lot of field position and played a lot of the game in our own half," said Kidney. "They picked off their points very well. If we continued that way there was no chance we were going to win. It's very difficult to win a match from your own half, especially when Chris Paterson is kicking all his points.
"At half-time it was pretty calm. The players came in and sat down, we had a cup of tea and tried and get a few messages across. There's no point ranting and raving because they're professional players. You try and make your feelings known on what is needed and the boys take them on board. We played a bit smarter."
Ireland were a different side in the second half, pulverising the monster Scots pack up front in a display that had Munster's stamp all over it. Skipper Brian O'Driscoll admitted there were a few worried looks in the dressing room but expected nothing less from Scotland.
"We were concerned. We realised we were in a tough Test match," said the Leinster centre. "It would take 75 to 80 minutes to beat the Scots and it panned out that way. It was no great surprise. We were down by three points at half time and it could have been worse.
"But when you're in the moment you don't really worry about it, you just think about the next half and what you can do. We spoke about upping the intensity and I felt we did that."
O'Driscoll hailed O'Gara, who overcame an indifferent Six Nations to become the highest points scorer in the championship's history after eclipsing Jonny Wilkinson's total of 479.
"That's Ronan. You don't play at this level for 10 years and not have some mental strength," he said. "Ronan has a lot of confidence and belief in his ability. That combined with his great work ethic produced that performance today."
O'Gara was happy to return to form having failed with four shots on goal against England and he told BBC1, "It was an awful long two weeks after the England game. People kept asking me what went wrong. I've had bad days before but I keep coming back and that is the most important thing I think."
Asked if he had been aware he was on the verge of breaking Jonny Wilkinson's points record, O'Gara added: "I was aware of it before the England game but tried to put it out of my mind before this one. It's all about next weekend now."
Peter Stringer returned to the Ireland side after his international future had been written off and he relished the experience."Just for myself to get back in was a great opportunity. To be part of an Irish jersey is something special. Anyone who gets a run in this team wants to do their best. You give it everything and hopefully I can hold my head high at the end of today!"
On next Saturday's potential title decider in Wales, Stringer added: "We are going to Wales with the mindset of winning the game. We will analyse today and take out what went wrong. We've got one game left and we'll see how that goes.
"It was a massive occasion in 2003 [when Ireland lost out to England in a Grand Slam decider]. Going into that match, we found ourselves in a position we hadn't been in for a long while. But this squad has come a long way since then. A lot of success has been built on with the provinces and with Ireland.
"It will be a massive occasion - we're playing the Grand Slam champions in their own back yard, and it's not going to be easy. We have a lot more experienced heads going into this game. We hope we won't let the occasion get us carried away. A Grand Slam or a championship is something we've targeted. We've been fortunate enough to come away with a few Triple Crowns - which is a good stepping stone for this. But this is another level. We want this so much."
Ireland coach Declan Kidney refused to entertain the possibility of his team completing the Grand Slam, instead preferring to concentrate on today's game.
Asked if there was any talk of the Slam, Kidney said: "No, not at all. We play Wales away next week, there is a lot to play for, but we'll just enjoy today and come in on Monday." Kidney also paid tribute to his side's fortitude, saying: "We are delighted to have won, we knew it was going to be tough coming over. It was just that it was a great win. There was a lot of pressure and expectation but we try not to feed into that."
Opposite number Frank Hadden was desperately disappointed and believed his side had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
"I thought we should have been out of sight at half-time," head coach Hadden said. "We had opportunities in the first half to close out the game. After half-time, it was a tale of elementary errors as far as we're concerned. The thing about Ireland is that they are remarkably error-free."
He added: "I thought the attitude of the players was outstanding, the way in which they approached the game today. In the first half, it looked as if we were on the verge of a special kind of result. In the second half, the attitude was there but the ball wasn't in our control.
"Then after 54 minutes, when we had a line-out on the edge of the 22, it was extremely disappointing to see our scrum-half 'scragged' by the blindside winger. Thereafter, we rarely had any joy pushing out of our half.
"We made one or two more immature decisions than we should have done. But, then again, credit to Ireland for putting us under that kind of pressure."
Scotland lost captain Mike Blair to a back injury and also have concerns about winger Thom Evans (shoulder) and flanker Alasdair Strokosch (neck). Hadden was reportedly given a target of two wins from the Six Nations by his employers at the Scottish Rugby Union.
With just four victories in his last 16 games, he was asked whether he felt under pressure to beat England next week. He said: "I've never, ever felt that kind of pressure because it's all about focusing on the performance and the training. But I accept the discussion is inevitably going to be there because that's not enough matches won."
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt won the tactical battle and set his team on course for a shot at the Grand Slam. Tom Hamilton reports from Dublin
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