Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Why O'Gara needs to start

They say Jonathan Sexton is a big game player, but the reality is he hasn't produced a big performance since the Heineken Cup final (and that was only for 40 minutes). The word is that he's kicking well in practice, but he doesn't seem comfortable under any sort of match pressure, even with relatively straightforward penalty kicks. Take for example the badly missed (and meaningless) conversion near the end of the Russia game. 5 from 13 says it all. O'Gara is 10 from 12. Which of the two is better at passing, or running, or tackling is incidental (and subjective) - there's so little in it to really matter (Quade Cooper "can't tackle", so he drops back to full back when Australia are defending). You can't argue with the stats. Start the player who will get points on the board early, and worry about tries later. Missing those kicks means forcing the game, spreading the ball wide, offloading in the tackle, penalty kicks to touch etc. This will only lead to mistakes, turnovers and growing frustration. It boils down to: with which outhalf are you more likely to close out the game? Every match is a cup final from here, Kidney simply has to pick the form players, in all positions. Therefore the only decision is whether to play Sexton at 12 from the start, or use him as impact (cover for 10 and 12) off the bench. And if they both start - which I'd say is highly unlikely - it should be clear from the start that O'Gara takes all kicks at goal, all penalty kicks to touch and all restarts. Mallet baiting us on the stronger Italian front row shows he wants to drag us into an ugly arm wrestle, but I think we'll beat the Italians reasonably comfortably. Assuming Kidney does the right thing and starts O'Gara.
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