June International Tours

O’Gara chuffed with Jenkins arrival



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If you come across Ronan O’Gara, Stephen Jones and James Hook deep in conversation with Neil Jenkins on the British and Irish Lions tour, you may as well leave them to it.

The subject might send you to sleep.

Far away from the rough and tumble of what should and shouldn’t happen at rucks, mauls, scrums and lineouts, the chat is almost certain to be about the science of kicking a rugby ball and that, as O’Gara admits, is a specialist topic of conversation only a few people really know about.

“It’s a fascinating subject,” the Ireland flyhalf said on Monday.

“But only a few people probably are interested in it because it’s a kicking thing.”

O’Gara, Jones and Hook are three of the best in the Six Nations and generally have kicked well in the first three games of the tour. But the Lions have called up one of the best ever in former Wales flyhalf Jenkins as kicking coach.

Jenkins once held the world record for career points kicked only to be overtaken by another specialist, Jonny Wilkinson, and his accuracy played a major part when the Lions came to South Africa to beat the home side 12 years ago.

Considered underdogs when they take on the world champion in three tests starting here in Durban on June 20, the Lions hope they can nullify the Springboks forwards power game and frustrate the home side into making mistakes and breaking the rules of the game.

That’s where the kickers will earn their appearances.

Either O’Gara or Jones will start with the other sitting on the bench and Hook as a backup. O’Gara encountered problems playing at altitude in Rustenburg, where the Lions came from 12 points down to beat a Royal XV 37-25.

But Jones kicked six conversions and two penalties against the Golden Lions at Ellis Park, Johannesburg, missing just once, and Hook landed three conversions in a 74-10 romp. Hook then kicked four penalties and two conversions to help the Lions beat the Cheetahs by two points at Bloemfontein on Saturday.

“I suppose the big thing that struck me was the fact that we were like robots or imbeciles on the pitch in the first game,” O’Gara said. “I slightly underestimated the affects of altitude – the mind was telling me one thing but the body wouldn’t get into a position to do it.

“We were definitely sluggish. Obviously the boys put it up a fair few notches in the (Golden Lions) game. There was an efficiency in their game that there wasn’t in ours. But after eight days we showed the benefits of it and feel a lot fresher.

“Obviously we’re back at sea level for this one so we just have to adjust the kicking, you can see the ball doesn’t hang quite as much and swirl as much and that’s something you have to take into account.”

Now Jenkins is on his way to join up the squad on Thursday and O’Gara, despite his experience and his expertise in helping Ireland win a long-awaited Six Nations and a first Grand Slam since 1948, says he’s always happy to get advice.

“The kicking game has gone well but there’s so much more to a kicking game than a goalkicking game,” O’Gara said during the buildup to the fourth game of the tour against the Sharks on Wednesday.

“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 it’s very, very hard for you to defend.”

O’Gara said he has improved throughout his career by getting advice from the top coaches.

“It’s all kicking on the run which is how rugby is played and running through the balls that’s something I’ve really enjoyed,” he said. “I get very excited with kicking in training and kicking in games – the ability to keep learning and evolving, otherwise you stay the same.

“You put more emphasis on a power position than standing tall, so you’re kicking with your body instead

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