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banner Thursday, 25 January, 2001, 18:34 GMT
O'Gara not short on confidence

Ronan O'Gara has starred for Munster this season
Ronan O'Gara is aiming to use the 2001 Six Nations Championship as another springboard to stardom.

The gifted Munster fly-half enjoyed a remarkable debut season in 2000 - his playing record stood at played three, won three by the end of March - as Ireland re-emerged as an international force.

Still to cement his place in the national team, O'Gara's immediate aim is to secure the number 10 jersey ahead of rival David Humphreys.

He also wants to prove that there is much more to his game than the metronomic goalkicking that set a new championship record in only his second match.

Further ahead, the 23-year-old from Cork has designs on a place on the British Lions tour to Australia this summer.

I don't see any other fly-half that I would particularly fear
  Ronan O'Gara

Jonny Wilkinson and Neil Jenkins appear cast-iron certainties, but the self-assured O'Gara rates his own chances pretty highly.

"I think at fly-half there are definite openings," he says.

"You've got to wait and see how the Six Nations go - but I don't see any other fly-half that I would particularly fear or would rate better than me, to be honest.

"Wilkinson is playing with a dominant English pack.

"He's a good kicker and all that, but there are other aspects of his game that aren't as good as people make him out to be."

O'Gara, who shot to prominence in Munster's march to last year's European Cup final and played a key role in the province's successful run this season, has piled up 114 points from his nine internationals.

That includes a perfect 12 goals from 12 attempts against Italy at Lansdowne Road.

But he has also caught the eye with his precision tactical kicking and the sleight of hand that puts the runners through the gaps to set up try-scoring positions.

Ronan O'Gara
O'Gara's goal-kicking will be vital for Ireland

"I take more pride in setting up tries than kicking goals," he says.

"I look on goalkicking as a separate function you have to perform; there's so much more to my game.

"I look upon myself as a creator first of all."

O'Gara's rise through the ranks has been well charted, ever since he won a Munster Senior Schools cup medal in 1995.

Steeped in rugby, he has been playing the game since the age of six, even though he was born in the United States.

"I was born in San Diego when my dad, who's a scientist, was working over there," he said.

Fergal O'Gara, a professor of microbiology who played on the wing for the old UCG club in Connacht, has been a major influence on the talented Cork Constitution fly-half, along with Declan Kidney and Eddie O'Sullivan.

David Humphreys
David Humphreys: O'Gara's out-half rival

O'Gara arrived on the international scene at the same time as O'Sullivan - a former teacher who became backs coach after the disastrous 1999 World Cup.

In 2000 the national team averaged nearly five tries a game, so it is little wonder that much of the talk in the build-up to the Six Nations Championship is focused on O'Gara and his fellow backs.

After missing Ireland's hammering by England last season, O'Gara was withdrawn early in the second half of the Scotland game, with Humphreys masterminding an impressive 44-22 triumph.

The Ulsterman also came on against France, kicking the 77th-minute penalty that gave Ireland their first victory in Paris for 28 years.

Humphreys and O'Gara will renew their rivalry in Rome, with the Cork youngster set for the starting role but with the pressure still very much on.

"I've been playing well with him breathing down my neck," said O'Gara.

"He's got the advantage of experience on his side, while I've got to prove that I'm the better player overall."

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25 Jan 01 |  Ireland
O'Driscoll misses Irish opener
19 Jan 01 |  Ireland
Gatland looks to Munster men
18 Jan 01 |  Ireland
Improved Irish looking confident
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