Ronan O'Gara on seven Ireland players that have him excited, ahead of New Zealand tour
"I read somewhere they scored 23 tries and only conceded four. That's some going."
You can bet your last dollar/Euro that Ronan O'Gara was well read up on every aspect of the 2022 Six Nations, and Ireland's performance in it.
Although his hands are full with coaching duties and a double trophy pursuit at La Rochelle, O'Gara was a keen student of all the Six Nations goings on.
Ireland finished up with the Triple Crown and something tangible to parade about, at least, after two championship close calls in the last three campaigns. Test rugby thoughts here now turn to New Zealand, and what players should make the tour for what should be five matches [three Tests, two midweek outings] in the Land of the Long White Cloud.
On the latest House of Rugby URC [LISTEN from 65:50 below], Jason Hennessy caught up with the former Munster, Ireland and Lions star, and talked about Andy Farrell's men, and Munster's search for a new head coach.
Ronan O'Gara on Ireland's playing style
Having followed Andy Farrell's men closely over the Six Nations, Ronan O'Gara notes the emergence of a 'very pleasing' style of play from Ireland.
"It's driven by results and it has always been driven by results," he says, "but you can see with this coaching staff that Ireland have this ambition to play, and just play the game a bit different. Not passing ownership to the players, but giving the players ownership on how they want to prepare. That's smart as it puts responsibility on the players, and makes them accountable."
You could see Ireland trying to keep the ball alive more in their games, not just in the Six Nations but the past 12 months under Farrell. That would sometimes result in superb scores, but the ball was often lost or seized back in the opposition 'red zone' [in and around their 22].
"It's that idea of 'no risk, no reward' versus, 'plenty of risk, plenty of reward'," says O'Gara. "It's just about finding the balance to it."
One side that is big on that ethos is New Zealand, so it will be fascinating to see how Ireland fare when they travel South, this summer, to take on the All Blacks.
The selection chat will hot up over the coming months, as the accolades, trophies and praise is handed out, but O'Gara already has a few players he is looking forward to seeing more of.
Ronan O'Gara on seven "stand-out" Irish stars
During his chat on Ireland's playing style, there was mention and high words for the likes of Johnny Sexton and Tadhg Furlong, as well as some players that have either kicked on or been given an outright chance by Andy Farrell.
Asked for the Irish players that impressed him in the Six Nations, Ronan O'Gara leans back and remarks, "There's a lot to mention. We can get through a few of them here!
"Andy Porter hit new consistency levels before his (ankle) injury that puts him at a new level. Not that I didn't expect him to get there but he is turning into a phenomenal rugby player. I think he was a phenomenal athlete for a period, but now he is combining both.
"The two hookers, Dan Sheehan and Rónan Kelleher, are very, very interesting. And it's not just in the last Six Nations, but the last 12 months, that Josh van der Flier has become an extraordinary player.
"Then I'd identify Mack Hansen. It seems like he has played over 50 Tests. And he is impressive over both sides of the ball; and let's be very accurate about how that is presented. Going forward, you'd expect that of wingers but the big thing for him (against Scotland) was his decision to shoot out of the line and shut down the Scottish attack, with four attackers on his outside. That's brave, that's courageous, that's smart - putting your body on the line.
"Then, on the other wing, you have James Lowe. So many question marks at the start, and people were only too delighted to knock him, and say, 'No, he can't defend'. He's come from Super Rugby, where it is all-out attack, and he hasn't had these pictures to deal with, and be coached. Like, here we don't like to give the opposition time and space. Super Rugby is all about time and space. All that, and he's taken his game to a new level."
The final player name-checked by Ronan O'Gara is one we were only recently gushing about ourselves.
"The final, stand-out player," he says, "is Hugo Keenan.
"His consistency, solidity and the impact he has on other players, with that assurance he gives those around him - high balls, last line of defence, making the right decisions at the right times - it can't be under-appreciated."
Pictured is Ronan O’Gara, accompanied by Monkstown Mini Rugby players Isabelle Ferris, James Ferris, Jack Ferris, Sam Sorohan, Freddie Morrissey and Georgia Morrisey, at the launch of this year’s Aviva Mini Rugby Festivals. Six camps, with over 2,000 participants, are set to take place across the country. Four provincial festivals will take place in April, before the National Festival takes places at Aviva Stadium, in May. To learn more about the festivals, visit www.aviva.ie/minirugby, or for more information, follow Aviva Ireland across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates over the coming weeks. (Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan)
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