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Remembering the time Ronan O’Gara was attacked by Australian player Duncan McRae

O'Gara McRae

“When the game was over I wanted to go into their dressing room and have a cut off him.”

In our latest throwback, we remember the 2001 British and Irish Lions Tour and the infamous attack by Duncan McRae on Ronan O’Gara.

On Saturday, June 23 2001, the British and Irish Lions took on the Waratahs just a week before they were to face off against the Wallabies in the first Test on what was a three-Test tour.

The Lions had lost their first match of the series just four days earlier, a 28-25 defeat to Australia ‘A’ in Gosford.

O'Gara McRae

Lions v Australia rivalry.

The build-up to the match with the Waratahs was fraught with tension.

Ahead of the game, Australian coaches criticised the Lions, accusing them of depoying illegal tactics in the lineout, scrum and breakdown.

Meanwhile, the Australian media were stirring up old feelings from the ‘Battle of Ballymore’, The infamous second Test match of the 1989 tour.

Four Wallabies – Greg Martin, Steve Tuynman, Michael Lynagh and Farr-Jones – finished the match with a total of 25 stitches between them.

The match between the Lions and Australia at the Sydney Football Stadium in 2001 added another chapter to memorable clashes but for the wrong reasons.

In the second half, Waratahs fullback Duncan McRae punched a defenceless Ronan O’Gara 11 times on the turf in Sydney.

O'Gara McRae

Duncan McRae attacks a defenceless Ronan O’Gara.

“What we discovered at the Sydney Football Stadium was that the Waratahs had taken it upon themselves to sort us out,” O’Gara wrote in his autobiography.

“They made their intentions clear right away. Straight from the kick-off, Danny Grewcock was flattened with an elbow to the jaw and Tom Bowman was immediately sin-binned.

“There were four seconds on the clock. Fifty-three minutes later they did me.

O'Gara McRae

“We were attacking inside their 22, I passed to Woody [Keith Wood] and he took it up close to their 5-metre line. Two of their guys brought Woody down. One of them was Duncan McRae.

“As the ruck was forming I followed up and shoved him. Next thing I knew I was on the ground and McRae was pucking the head off me.

“After the first dig I thought it was going to stop any second but they kept coming. Nine. Ten. Eleven. A frenzy of digs. One after another after another. I just lay there and took it. It was the weirdest feeling. Lying there I felt totally lost. Like I was in a daze.

“Even though he was on top of me, I wasn’t pinned down. I tried to protect my face with my right arm and after a couple of seconds I grabbed the back of his jersey with my left. Useless. Pointless. Why? Why didn’t I try to push him off? Hit him. Something. Why did I just take it?”

O'Gara McRae

“Two lacerations under my left eye needed eight stitches but the pain of that was nothing compared to the humiliation. Why didn’t I try to defend myself? In the dressing room I was fucking raging. Raging with myself. Raging with McRae. When the game was over I wanted to go into their dressing room and have a cut off him.”

O’Gara then goes on to describe the pain it caused his family who were watching on in the stands and also to his now-wife, Jess, who was back in Ireland watching on TV.

O'Gara McRae

The judiciary process which occurred in the aftermath of the game, where McRae received a seven-week ban, is also discussed.

An extract from the 2001 Lions documentary, which can be found below, offers a unique insight into what happened behind the scenes during this famous incident.

Originally published on March 30, 2020.


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Author: Sean McMahon

Sean is Deputy Editor and head rugby writer. You can contact him by email [email protected] or on Twitter