O’Gara eager to stake Test claim

Ronan O'Gara is determined to prove to British & Irish Lions head coach Sir Clive Woodward that Jonny Wilkinson is not the only fly-half option available for the Test series against New Zealand. [more]

Lions Australia Tour 2013

Ronan O’Gara is determined to prove to British & Irish Lions head coach Sir Clive Woodward that Jonny Wilkinson is not the only fly-half option available for the Test series against New Zealand.

The Irishman is confident a stellar performance against Bay of Plenty in the tour opener on Saturday will help him pose a major challenge to Wilkinson, Welsh stand-off Stephen Jones and Englishman Charlie Hodgson.

"There is no greater admirer of Jonny in the game than me, but even though he is the standard bearer you have to prove you are a better player than him if you want to get in the Test team," O’Gara said.

"There is great competition and the most important thing for me is that I do my best to challenge for a Test spot and if I play to the best of my ability, that will improve the performance of the other three to play in the Test shirt.

"As a result the Lions are better off for having a stronger man in the Test 10 jersey.

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"I believe the management when they say everyone is on a clean slate. I don’t think anything worth going after is easy to get."

O’Gara’s ambitions are high but he knows a poor performance in Rotorua’s International Stadium, against a Bay of Plenty side that promises to be fiercely competitive, could wreck his dreams of playing Test rugby for the Lions.

"I’ve played over 50 games for Ireland so I’m used to the big games and my preparation will be the same but if it does go wrong I won’t get another go, it is as simple as that," O’Gara admitted.

"You have to be realistic about it and that is the view I’m taking – if it doesn’t go right I won’t be featuring in their minds for the Test selection and I have to accept that. I have to use that as a positive."

O’Gara toured Australia with the Lions four years and learned a great deal from the trip, particularly from working with Wilkinson on the training field.

"The last tour I wasn’t a contender for a Test spot in my own head because Jonny was so far ahead of me. But I’d like to think now I’ve closed the gap," he said.

"I had one year of international experience under my belt and now I’ve got five and the stars of the world game don’t faze me, so I’m looking forward to showing what I’ve got to offer.

"I learnt a lot on that tour and it opened my eyes to how the best fly-half in the world operates. I watched him and then tweaked it to my own ways and I’ve now got my own strengths."

So much so that O’Gara has even entertained the idea of Wilkinson being moved to inside centre to form a midfield partnership with Lions captain Brian O’Driscoll.

"There might be a possibility that Jonny could play in a different position," said O’Gara.

"He’s played 12 before and it is an idea that might be achieved. You don’t know what emphasis they will put on the kicking game and the right or left leg. Unless I’m told otherwise I see everything is there to play for."

O’Gara has been out of action for three months with a serious knee injury that nearly cost him a place on the tour. But he made a triumphant return in Munster’s Celtic Cup final win over Llanelli.

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