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'He's more of a maverick' | ROG on Ireland's options at 9 and 10

Ronan O’Gara was on Tuesday's OTB AM and spoke about Ireland’s options in the half-backs ahe...

'He's more of a maverick' | RO...

'He's more of a maverick' | ROG on Ireland's options at 9 and 10

Ronan O’Gara was on Tuesday's OTB AM and spoke about Ireland’s options in the half-backs ahead of the World Cup.

The first-choice half-back combination is locked in with Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton the clear front runners but the picture isn’t so clear beyond them.

While Joe Schmidt may have been originally planning on taking two fly-halves to Japan, Carbery’s injury will likely force him to take a third option at 10.

Whether that will be Connacht’s inventive play-maker Jack Carty or Leinster’s assured Ross Byrne is still up for debate.

“In terms of executing a plan, I think Ross Byrne is excellent. Where he comes into his own is his game management. You look at what he’s done with Leinster - he’s played in a lot of big games.

“A lot of pressure games where he’s got his team over the line. There’s a lot of skill in doing that and there’s a lot more in it that a lot of people might appreciate,” O’Gara explained.

However, the former Munster player felt that winning a World Cup by rigidly sticking to the game-plan was unlikely to happen.

“I think when Jack Carty plays his best rugby is on instinct. He’s more of a maverick. And being a young player it’s obviously difficult because you’re coming in and you’re playing to a system.

“Will scripted rugby win a World Cup? I think it’ll win a big game but will it win three-in-a-row? Very, very hard I would think? So those players that are natural rugby players [are important],” O’Gara said.

The La Rochelle head coach wasn’t sure which player he’d take to Japan but noted that the upcoming warm-up games against England and Wales would have a huge bearing on Schmidt’s decision.

Who will be Murray’s back-up?

The choices don’t get any easier in the race for the number 21 shirt as Luke McGrath and Kieran Marmion battle it out to make it on the plane.

O’Gara felt that neither are up to Murray’s level but knew who he’d rather take to Japan.

“I suppose when you look at Ireland in terms of Conor [Murray’s] position there’s a big drop off there. In my head, it’s probably Luke McGrath at this stage.

“Marmion is very good and he’s terrier-like. I’m being extremely harsh because he’s always been very good for Ireland but I think there’s more to come for McGrath. I think he’s had a big season for Leinster,” O’Gara commented.

Getting Murray back to his best will be a major focus for Joe Schmidt in what was a disappointing season for the usually imperious number nine.

O’Gara played with Murray at Munster and Ireland at the tail-end of his career and he backed his former teammate to be in top form for the World Cup.

“I think this summer will hopefully be very beneficial for the fact that he was able to get away from rugby and maybe re-evaluate.

“I think he has Federer-like qualities in the fact that there’s that serenity and calmness about him that very few people can exhibit, but Conor can,” O’Gara commented.

Ireland have three more games before they set course for Japan, taking on England in Twickenham this Saturday before playing the newly-crowned world No.1 Wales home and away.

Those games will prove decisive for the players on the fringes of the Ireland squad and will give us insight into how the team’s preparations are going as a whole.

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