Sharks v British & Irish Lions, Durban, June 10
O'Gara gunning for Test place
Graham Jenkins in Durban
June 9, 2009
O'Gara will wear the Lions' No.10 jersey against the Sharks on Wednesday night © Getty Images
British & Irish Lions fly-half Ronan O'Gara is determined to give Ian McGeechan a selection headache with an eye-catching performance against the Sharks in Durban on Wednesday night.
The Munster and Ireland star will anchor the Lions' backline in their fourth tour clash and is well aware that his main rival for the No.10 jersey, Wales' Stephen Jones, has stolen an advantage in the battle to secure the all-important starting role in the Test series with South Africa.
O'Gara started the Lions' first tour game against the Royal XV and delivered a solid display including four conversions and three penalties as the tourists struggled with the conditions - but he is promising to raise the bar at the ABSA Stadium.
"The big thing that struck me was that we felt like robots or imbeciles on the pitch in the first game," he said reflecting on the effect of playing at altitude in Rustenburg. "I certainly underestimated the effects of altitude. My mind was telling me one thing but the body wouldn't get me into a position to do it.
"In that regard we were definitely sluggish and obviously the boys took it up a fair few notches in the Golden Lions game. In your own head it's only natural to ask why it was like that. There was efficiency in their game that wasn't in ours but I think after eight days at altitude you get the benefit and we feel a lot fresher now."
O'Gara's relationship with his main rival Jones is well documented and their respect for each other was underlined when following Ireland's victory over title rivals Wales in their Six Nations decider, the Irishman immediately sought out his Welsh rival to commiserate rather than celebrate with his team mates.
"I started off the same time as Stephen and I've huge respect for him," O'Gara said. "I suppose that the greatest compliment I can give him is that he's still there at the top.
"If you look across at the top fly-halves in Europe, a lot of them have fallen off or lost form or crumbled under pressure, and it's just the two of us left fighting for the jersey. That's a testament to him.
"I've a great relationship with Stephen. I'm competitive, he's competitive but you can get beyond that and have a good working relationship. I'm 32, he's 31, you should act like grown men about it and that's how it is.
"He did well last week and we have to show the same shape against the Sharks. I will be playing inside Jamie Roberts again, but outside him in Rustenburg was Keith Earls, a huge talent who is finding his feet, while this time Brian O'Driscoll, the master at international level, will be there."
O'Gara, capped 92 times by Ireland, was denied the opportunity to form a Lions half-back pairing with his Munster colleague Tomas O'Leary when injury cruelly ended the scrum-half's tour before it had begun. But he believes that experience will still benefit him when he partners Wales' Mike Phillips against the Sharks.
"The last two years I've spent essentially working with Tomas [O'Leary] who I think is very similar to Mike Phillips. He's abrasive and feisty and I enjoy playing with people like that. He has an exceptional pass and I'll probably be able to get more width into my game."
Veteran O'Gara also welcomed the addition of Neil Jenkins to the Lions' coaching team despite his own rich vein of goal-kicking form and that of Jones and fellow Welshman James Hook.
"The goal kicking game has gone well but there's so much more to a kicking game than a goal kicking game," O'Gara explained. "It will be interesting in that we haven't done much in terms of an attacking kicking game or much in a strategic kicking game. But that's an area I'm looking forward to exploring. If you can get the right kind of kick in it's very, very hard for you to defend."
O'Gara insists he is always open to new ideas and welcomes the opportunity to develop as a player working with the likes of Ireland assistant coach Marc Tainton or former England kicking coach Dave Alred who worked with Munster this season.
"I get very excited with kicking in training and kicking in games," he said. "The ability to keep learning and evolving is important, otherwise you stay the same."