Contract extension a consolation as O’Gara loses out to Sexton
HE may have lost his international place to Jonathan Sexton but there was good news for Ronan O'Gara and Irish rugby yesterday when the out-half signed a new contract that will keep him in Ireland for another two seasons.
Sexton starts at No 10 against New Zealand at Lansdowne Road tomorrow as Ireland coach Declan Kidney made 11 changes to the team that beat Samoa last weekend and reverted to the side that lost 23-21 to South Africa two weeks ago.
Tom Court, in at tight-head prop for the injured Tony Buckley, is the only change to the team defeated by the Springboks.
O'Gara was pushing hard for selection after a strong performance against Samoa. His excellent form this season had made him a target for wealthy French Top 14 clubs until yesterday's announcement of a new deal which commits him to playing in Ireland until 2013 -- the second Munster star to agree a new deal after Donncha O'Callaghan signed up last week.
And there was further good news for Ireland coach Declan Kidney with the possibility of Paul O'Connell making a long-awaited return to action in next Friday's All-Ireland League clash between Shannon and Young Munster.
The second-row has not played since damaging his groin last spring, with Mick O'Driscoll, who starts alongside Donncha O'Callaghan tomorrow, slotting in for Munster and Ireland in his absence.
However, after initial diagnosis difficulties, O'Connell's rehabilitation has been progressing very well and it is hoped he will be able to play 40 minutes for Young Munster in their 'Friday Night Lights' clash with Limerick rivals Shannon next week.
New Zealand have lost their second-row Brad Thorn for tomorrow's clash, with Anthony Boric starting next to Tom Donnelly in a powerful side that includes twin totems Richie McCaw and Dan Carter.
Ireland go in as massive underdogs against a side they have never beaten in 105 years of trying, but Kidney struck a positive note yesterday when asked whether the best years of the 'golden generation' had passed.
"I'm not sure what's above golden generation but when they win on Saturday that will make them platinum!" said Kidney.
"It's a chance to make history; if that didn't excite you, you shouldn't be here. It's a huge challenge, but you can either crawl under a rock or you can look at it, take it on and see how we go."
After disappointing attendances at the South Africa and Samoa Tests, tomorrow's match is expected to be close to a sell-out, with the IRFU confirming they have only "around 400" €190 New Zealand-Argentina packages left for sale.