O’Gara Delighted To Be Back.
5th November 2007 By Munster Rugby
Ronan O’Gara, the Heineken Cup’s leading points scorer, can’t wait to open his 2007/2008 account against reigning champions London Wasps in their Pool 5 opener at The Ricoh Arena, Coventry, on Saturday.
O’Gara needs 59 points to extend his tournament record to 900 and he warmed-up for the clash of the last two Heineken Cup winners by scoring 14 points on his return from World Cup action as Munster beat Edinburgh 19-16 in the Magners League.
“It was great to get back into action last Saturday and yes, I have to say I enjoyed the whole occasion. Good weather conditions, a good tough game of rugby and a full house. What more could you want ?” he said of Saturday’s game.
But next weekend presents a different competition and a totally different challenge. “The Heineken Cup is a fantastic competition – one that has great personal memories for me – and I am sure that applies to all Munster supporters and players,” said O’Gara. ” It’s my heartbeat in rugby terms. Always look forward to it.”
“We’re in a very difficult Pool and it is one that I would have preferred not to have been drawn in! It would have been nice to have avoided a couple of these teams at this early stage to allow us to catch our breath but, with the likes of Wasps, ASM Clermont Auvergne and the Scarlets in our Pool, there is no chance of that.
“We have to be right from day one, any slip-ups and we are under pressure but that applies to the others well. The quality of the competition improves year by year. I know that might sound like a cliché, but it is a simple, hard fact. We are setting ourselves up for Test match level rugby – starting at The Ricoh Stadium this weekend.
“The Heineken Cup games, even at the Pool stages, are every bit as intense as the international arena. It may even be a question of there being greater pressure in this tournament because of the level of local support and passion that is so evident.
“As far as we are concerned in Munster, we are pretty happy with where we are in our build-up but we all know the challenge we face in Coventry is just massive. Wasps are a hugely experienced and battle hardened side with a fantastic record in the competition.
“In terms of our own preparation, its easy to see the hard work that has been done by the players and management while we have been away. I think all our World Cup players have settled back into the Munster squad pretty well and the win at the weekend was just the tonic we needed.
“The way we managed to stick at it and come away with the points against a traditionally well organised Edinburgh side was very important. They came over looking for a win, no doubt about that, and it proved to be the ideal warm-up to what is going to be a massive game for us at the weekend.”
Wasps have already sold more than 20,000 tickets opting to move to the bigger Ricoh Arena and away from their own cosy 10,000 capacity Adams Park, but O’Gara doesn’t see theat helping his side. “I don’t believe for one minute that Wasps would have chosen to take us to The Ricoh if they thought it was going to put their side at a disadvantage,” he said.
“Besides that, they are one of the most professional sides in club rugby and the venue will not act against them. As they showed against us at Lansdowne Road in the semi-final of 2004, the composition of the crowd won’t deter them.”
“That said, I think we will give a good account of ourselves both on and off the field and it is going to be a cracking game – I can’t wait for the action to begin.”
It will be the fifth season in the last six Heineken Cup campaigns that Munster have kicked-off against English opposition.
Last season a dramatic half-way line penalty goal from O’Gara saw them overpower Leicester Tigers 21-19, while in 2005 they lost 27-13 at Sale Sharks. Even so, they went on to win the title that season with eight straight victories after that opening day defeat.
In 2004, there was a home win over Harlequins at Thomond Park, 15-9, in the opening encounter, while in 2002, they went down to a 35-16 defeat at Kingsholm against Gloucester.
That reverse was dramatically overturned with the famous ‘Miracle Match’ victory, 33-6, at Thomond Park in Round 6, which led to another semi-final appearance.