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'That's where we'll see what he's made of': O'Gara has sympathy for Burns blunder and O'Mahony red

The La Rochelle head coach feels more red cards are inevitable when the ruck changes so rapidly.

Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Updated Feb 8th 2021, 8:07 PM

‘I’VE DONE IT a few times myself,’ says Ronan O’Gara, but he’s not layering on any extra sugar on the sympathy he has for Billy Burns after his last-ditch kick to touch was badly overcooked in yesterday’s 21-16 Six Nations loss to Wales.

The best advice the legendary out-half can offer Burns at this point is to make sure, if presented with a similar scenario, he doesn’t miss the kick long again.

Miss short, there’s still a chance. Miss long and, well, here we are.

“Nowadays, the five-metre line is the goal-line for a kicker,” says O’Gara as he helped launch the Aviva Mini Rugby Virtual Skills Hub.

The traditional corner flag is of no relevance – you cannot get a line-out nearer than the five-metre line. Why would you even think of kicking for the corner flag?”

Even over a mid-morning Zoom call, O’Gara’s animated passion for the subject shines through. His hands shape touchlines in front of his laptop screen as he allows for a 4.99 metre margin of error if the kick is aimed at the five rather than the flag.

“Your error rate can be the five metres previous to that. If you miss your target by five, you have a lineout 10 metres out.”

It was a weekend when kicks from hands brought O’Gara through a gamut of wows to winces. Saturday’s gorgeous, long Stuart Hogg spiral - ”It’s a skill that needs a lot of work, but once you nail it, you have it for life and it’s undefendable” helped Scotland take down England in Twickenham. He admits he could do with another angle of Burns’ kick, but initial views suggest the technique was awry.

“I thought it missed by a lot, which I’d say [it was a case of] head up, looking at outcome. As opposed to, I’ve done it a few times myself, you’ve got to watch the ball onto your foot.”

While calls for Ross Byrne’s reintroduction grew immediately on the full-time whistle in Cardiff, O’Gara doesn’t see the need for Andy Farrell to instantly change his pecking order at 10.

ronan-ogara O'Gara launching the Aviva Mini Rugby Virtual Skills Hub, which will take place over next week’s mid-term break. Families and clubs across Ireland are invited to sign up at www.aviva.ie/safetodreamteam. Source: Farid Makhlouf/INPHO

“But sure that’s where we’ll see his character now, that’s where we’ll see what he’s made of. It’s all well and good when everything is rosy. He’s had a setback. Everyone in top level sport is going to have setbacks. He can feel sorry for himself last night. But chin up today and get back to work. Get working on it straight away.

“It’s just about what he’ll learn from it. That’s the important thing because it’s disappointing yesterday. And he’ll be the most disappointed, he doesn’t need to be told but it will more disappointing for him if, in the next scenario for Ulster in a Heineken Cup game or for Ireland in the future, he does the same – then people will get frustrated.”

While Burns’ errant kick sealed Wales’ victory, Ireland’s defeat was most shaped by the early red card for Peter O’Mahony. In that instance it’s far from a simple case of making sure it doesn’t happen again.

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peter-omahony-leaves-the-field-after-being-red-carded Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“You could have a red card a game,” says the La Rochelle head coach with an exasperated expression. There is no question the punishment for O’Mahony was warranted once contact was made with the head of Tomas Francis. But approaching a dynamic ruck, slowing down or pulling back are the last things on the mind of any decent back row.

If you’ve a (David) Pocock or, in my team (Levani) Botia, lock onto a ball, you have no chance of removing him unless you’re coming at high speed.”

“The massive takeaway for me from the weekend is: live in action the referee (Wayne Barnes is saying): ‘it’s a clear-out, nothing wrong, totally unavoidable’. To then be stopped 40 seconds later by his TMO and his language changes because we’re looking at a still: ‘foul play, from a distance, high-speed, hit in the head, not in control, high danger.  Sanction is a red card.’

“And I do think (O’Mahony) was in control of his body. I didn’t think it was high danger.”

No danger until Tomas Francis twists around to see O’Mahony coming his way.

“So many times we land on the back of Francis… the head pops up,  that happens like that,” O’Gara says with a click of his fingers.

The margin for error at the ruck changes in an instant.

Ronan O’Gara was speaking at the launch of the Aviva Mini Rugby Virtual Skills Hub, which will take place over next week’s mid-term break.  Families and clubs across Ireland are invited to sign up at www.aviva.ie/safetodreamteam.

First published today at 13.40

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Sean Farrell

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