New Zealand tour the ultimate challenge for Ireland – O’Gara

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That's the opinion of former Ireland and British & Irish Lions five-eighths and assistant Crusaders coach Ronan O'Gara.


With Ireland also seeking two mid-week games on the three-Test tour, it would be able to take an expanded squad and give emerging players a taste of international rugby.


Knowing the New Zealand environment from his two years coaching with the Crusaders, O'Gara said it would be invaluable.


He told, "This is top, top-level sport. It's ruthless. You want to set your players up to succeed.


"It's a hard environment in the middle of winter, on a winter surface in New Zealand. It'll be different rugby to what we'll see in the next two or three months with firm pitches.


"You're going into the middle of winter, they'll be hostile environments but passionate fans. It's a fantastic test as a rugby player," he said.


"For me, it smacks of a massive opportunity. At the same time, you look throughout the Six Nations campaign, and a lot of different players were used, but none of them are unproven, so it's deadly competitive to get into the Irish team, let alone the squad," he said.

An extended squad would allow the coaching staff to see the character of individuals at training. That was informative to a head coach, he said.


O'Gara said Ireland was in a 'very good position' 18 months out from the Rugby World Cup. But, there was no argument France was the best in the world at the moment. Halfback Antoine Dupont was 'in a league of his own.'


O'Gara, who has a long association with French rugby and Racing 92, and Stade Rochelais, said he had never seen the French public so invested in the national team as they are at the moment.


There were better relationships between the French Federation and the clubs. That had not always been the case.


He remembered a time when top players feared going to a French camp. There was disillusionment with the French jersey, he said.


But things had changed.


"Now, getting to French camp is sought after, I can see that. We had seven players involved [something] unheard of for Stade Rochelais. But, underneath that, there are another five or six who are frustrated and would love the opportunity to even go to camp.


"It's the same as anything, when you have a winning model, it grows," he said.


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