Sunday 23 July 2017

'We’d try to get him off the field' - Doug Howlett explains why Ronan O'Gara is like Richie McCaw

Jack O'Toole

Former Munster winger Doug Howlett likened Ronan O'Gara to Richie McCaw on Thursday afternoon as he attended O'Gara's 'Freedom of the City' ceremony at Cork City Hall.

O'Gara was awarded Cork's highest civic honour after a glittering 16-year career with Munster where the province's all-time leading points scorer was honoured for his distinguished contributions to Cork.

The 40-year-old was joined at the ceremony by former Ireland captain Donal Lenihan, and former Munster teammates Alan Quinlan and Doug Howlett, with the ex-All Blacks winger favourably comparing O'Gara to three-time World Rugby Player of the Year Richie McCaw.

Howlett said that O'Gara shared the same grit and toughness as McCaw, although Lenihan was quick to highlight that there was notable some differences in their tackling abilities.

"I often liken ROG to Richie McCaw," said Howlett.

"Richie was one of the best flankers in the modern game and the game plan whenever we played against Ireland was to try and get ROG off the field.

"We’d try to get him off the field. Whenever teams used to play us, they always tried to get Richie off the field, because both of those guys are such crucial players to the operation.

"We managed to play Ireland a few times, and whenever we did, we sent our biggest, scariest players at ROG and I'm sure you have memories of it.

"But whenever he got hit, he always stood up, he was always there."

At which point Donal Lenihan jokingly interjected: "He didn’t always tackle them, but he stood up."

Known for his trademark wit as much as he is for his abilities with boot and ball, O'Gara fired back immediately at Lenihan responding to the audience with great one liner.

"Is there anyone old enough in the room to get up and talk about Donal?"

Howlett, like former teammate Alan Quinlan, praised O'Gara for his leadership and his playing ability.

The All Blacks joint all-time leading try scorer said that he had sought advice from fellow Munster based New Zealanders Rua Tipoki and Lifeimi Mafi before he made the move from Auckland to Limerick, and also sought the advice of O'Gara.

"His [O'Gara] ability to kick, to control the opposition, his ability to bring the best out of his own teammates was great. You'd make an error and he'd go 'Doug! You're better than that.'

"I had some colleagues before I moved in Tipoki and Mafi, and they had glowing words to say about the team and evenironment.

"But I also spoke to Ronan. I liked what Munster stood for. There was a purpose and a meaning. These guys didn't have to be spoken to, they knew what it meant to play rugby and what it meant for the region they played in.

"I planned to go to the Mediterranean for a bit [after Munster], go play in Japan on the way back to New Zealand, but here I am, still, 10 years later."

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