Ireland fly-half Ronan O’Gara is confident his side’s improved showing in the second Test against New Zealand proves that “normal service has resumed”.
O’Gara revealed that Ireland’s poor performance in the first Test at Eden Park, when the side lost 42-10, had shaken the squad.
They were a changed side in Christchurch at the weekend, when only a late Dan Carter drop-goal earned victory for an All Blacks side down to 14 men following the late sin-binning of Israel Dagg.
And while O’Gara was encouraged by that improvement, he admits there should never have been so much ground to make up.
“Ireland did play well the other night,” he said. “The All Blacks were probably in second gear and they had every reason to be in second gear because of the way we played at Eden Park. It is only natural.
“It shouldn’t take something like that to give us a boot up the backside. We have our standards, have our values, for, a lot of us, the last 10 or 12 years.
“Those standards were poor in Auckland but I hope that normal service has resumed. The other side of it is that there is plenty to improve on so we’d like to think we can improve on last week’s performance.”
O’Gara recalled that Ireland made a habit of closing out close games when they won the Six Nations Grand Slam in 2009 but admits they have struggled to replicate that form.
He said: “Fair play to them. They squeezed out a winning position from, probably, an un-winnable position with a man in the bin. That is what they deserve all the credit for.
“That’s what winning teams do and that is exactly what we were like during the year of the Grand Slam. You know where the finishing line is and you do whatever it takes to get over it.
“That is a massive skill in itself and there was massive trust between the players. I think that, since then, there has been a fair bit of change in the team, we are trying to develop.
“We probably hit that level once before (against Australia) during the World Cup when everything was going really well for us before we came unstuck against Wales in a game that was a massive downer for us.
“They were the two times, the Grand Slam year and at the World Cup, when we had this unbelievable belief that, whatever we had, it would be good enough.”
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen claimed after Saturday’s clash that the narrow defeat represented Ireland’s peak, but O’Gara shrugged off his comments.
“A lot of that, you can read into it after an event,” he said. “You could say that it is condescending but I don’t think it was meant like that.
“We all speak with emotions sometimes and that was what Steve felt at the time. I would have no problem with that.
“Steve was probably relieved to get over the finish line as you could see an edge to them.
“When Dan Carter kicked the drop goal, you don’t often see that with the All Blacks, so you could see what it meant to them.”
O’Gara featured as a replacement in the first and second Tests and could start at number 10 if Jonathan Sexton is moved to inside centre in place of the injured Gordon D’Arcy.
The Munster half-back is 35 years old now and Saturday’s third Test at Waikato Stadium realistically represents his last chance to be in an Irish team that defeats the All Blacks.
“It will be interesting to see what happens,” he said. “The most important thing, from a senior player’s point of view, is, inexperience or experience and whether you start or are in the 22, you have to make a positive impact when you come onto the pitch, whether it is one minute or 80 minutes.
“The sooner the 22 start believing and operating like that, I think, Ireland will be in a better place.
“You have to add more than the fella that was there when you do come on. If you think like that it will have a positive impact on the team.”