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Quinlan: O'Gara will adapt to Penney style

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Ronan O'Gara. Photo: Sportsfile

Ronan O'Gara. Photo: Sportsfile

Ronan O'Gara. Photo: Sportsfile

Two-time Heineken Cup winner Alan Quinlan believes that it is far too premature to write off veteran out-half Ronan O'Gara's ability to adapt to the new style of play being developed by Munster coach Rob Penney.

As Munster departed Ravenhill last Friday, many disgruntled visiting supporters bemoaned what they perceived to be an overly sloppy 10-minute cameo from the decorated Irish No 10, culminating in Ulster's remarkable defence denying him the opportunity to get into position for a trademark late winning drop goal.

Experience

However, Quinlan believes that his erstwhile team-mate has all the necessary experience required to adapt his game to fit into the style demanded by the new coaching panel, within which backs coach Simon Mannix is already having a positive impact.

"I've no doubt that Ronan can adapt to any style of play necessary," declares Quinlan. "His execution in terms of distribution has always been top-class, and you only have to look back to the World Cup against Australia or the times he has played alongside Jonny Sexton to see that.

"I think he was just a little rusty the other night. It was his first game back into what is an emerging side with a different type of game plan to what has been there in recent years.

"He hadn't been involved in any of the pre-season games so it was understandable really that he mightn't be up to speed at this stage. I'm sure he'll improve with time. He's too good not to.

"He just needs a couple more games to get up to the same type of match fitness that the rest of the guys have and then he'll be motoring. But I've no qualms about him being able to adjust."

O'Gara seems likely to start at out-half this weekend against the Dragons, with impressive understudy Ian Keatley -- who has scored a try and slotted every kick bar his first in the opening league game against Edinburgh -- shifting to full-back.

Keeping his front-line superstars happy could be the most difficult balance to be achieved by Penney, who has been set a target of returning Munster to their former European pre-eminence by chief executive Garrett Fitzgerald.

Keith Earls has already declared his preference for playing in the outside-centre position, a fact complicated by the outstanding early season form of the newly-signed incumbent pairing of James Downey and Casey Laulala.

"The two new centres are doing extremely well," says Quinlan. "They offer a physical, strong presence that Munster have lacked there in recent times. But then to have such a dangerous footballer in Earls, you know the value of him in that he can play at full-back or on the wing as well. But Keith is going to have to be patient.

"No Munster player is guaranteed their place on the team. It's a good thing that Munster have depth in so many positions; the bigger picture is more important than any individual.

"Rob Penney is going to have to navigate around the various players who feel that they should be playing where they want to play in the big games. But ultimately, it's his decision. So, it's case of you'll play where you're picked."

While Quinlan isn't getting carried away with Munster's bright start to the season -- the buoyancy offered by two league wins was punctured somewhat by last Friday's Ulster setback -- he is encouraged by what he sees.

Talisman

And he stresses that if the talismanic Paul O'Connell remains sidelined for longer than expected, as seems likely given Penney's comments earlier this week, Munster need to cope with his loss much better than they have done in the past.

"Munster can't be depending on one player, no matter how good he is. Over the last two years, a group of players have developed slowly behind him and now is their time to step up to the mark," says Quinlan.

"In the past, Munster were guilty of looking to him all the time but they need to learn how to stand on their own terms.

"I was pretty worried at how poor Munster were when hammered by London Irish in pre-season but they've impressed more than not in the opening three weeks of the league.

"They still have limitations, though, and the Heineken Cup is a stage where those faults can be exposed. But with players like CJ Stander, Peter O'Mahony and Donnacha Ryan to come in, you'd have to say there are more positive than negative signs. The coach has done a good job so far."

Irish Independent