O’Gara’s stock soars after Marseille masterclass


Ronan O’Gara’s agent could be a busy man over the next 12 months.

This morning, the former Ireland international’s share price is as high as any manager’s in the game. He may only have signed a contract extension last year until 2024, but extending that deal will be La Rochelle president Vincent Merlin’s number one priority, especially with a World Cup in the pipeline. a little over a year and international unions that are hiding.

If he had to pick up in the morning, O’Gara could probably pick his next ticket. His next move, whenever it comes, will be fascinating.

When he swapped Christchurch for the west of France in 2019, he was venturing into the unknown. At Racing 92 and the Crusaders, not to mention his playing days at Munster, he was used to environments where winning was an expectation rather than a mere desire.

La Rochelle was no Mickey Mouse outfit in 2019, however. Challenge Cup finalists the season before he arrived, and Top14 semi-finalists that year, it was a club with big ambitions and a budget that went with. But they lacked a winning culture.

Before convincing club members that the Champions Cup was a competition they could win, he first had to convince them that it was a competition they had to win, admitting that the prospect of being champions Europe seemed “far away” three years ago.

“You could see it coming together,” he said, as he sat beside the shining trophy after Saturday’s loss to Leinster.

“The boys were probably a little shocked at how much I love the competition. It’s only when you go to France that you see what the ‘Bouclier’ [Top14 shield] means.

“It’s a fantastic competition [Top14]. It’s a marathon, but they weren’t used to the Champions Cup. They didn’t play a lot of games there until 24 months ago, so it was something a bit new for them and trying to create that mindset.

“The Top14 was a marathon but the Champions Cup could be a sprint. Once you had some momentum they could see that crazy Irishman knew what he was talking about and we could try both.”

The French league is well known for its emphasis on home games, with away wins coming as a bonus. To challenge Europe, they had to travel.

It may have been cliché, but it was hard not to feel the old Munster DNA in their supporters, traveling in large groups, making noise and draping in club colors almost out of obligation.

Having reached the final last year in both competitions, there wasn’t much room for improvement as O’Gara moved from head coach to director of rugby, but they found him.

“But you’re going to win your home games and your away games to win the Champions Cup, and they were like ‘coach, it’s not possible’. They got into it, really into it.

“It was about winning, finding a way to bring that cup back to La Rochelle. When Monday comes and Thursday comes his ‘2022 La Rochelle’ on that cup. It’s a bit surreal by the minute but we’ll take advantage of it. “

O’Gara celebrates with his wife Jessica after the final whistle

It’s easy to see how he fits in both at the club and in the region, a small town of 75,000 people on the west coast of France.

Those who traveled from the old port of Marseille to the Velodrome stadium early on Saturday would have seen the yellow and black jerseys and the bumblebee suits gathering around the ground from midday, almost six hours before kick-off.

It may have been cliché, but it was hard not to feel the old Munster DNA in their supporters, traveling in large groups, making noise and draping in club colors almost out of obligation.

More than an hour before kick-off, thousands of La Rochelle supporters were already seated and singing, long before the players had even entered the pitch for their pre-warm-up walk.

“It was interesting this morning, I ran into a decent Leinster supporter. He just said ‘no matter what, those boys do you proud’. It’s important, that respect for Leinster’s dominance.”

Very few gave them a chance to stop Leinster, who looked destined to win their fifth title after a run to the final that had been unprecedented in their dominance.

And that’s what makes La Rochelle’s victory so remarkable. In a season where Leinster were averaging nearly 50 points and six tries per game, O’Gara’s side held them without a try. They had the advantage over Leinster in their physicality, but not to the extent of last year’s semi-final. The big difference in Saturday’s final was that when the opportunity arose to play ball, they took risks, enough of which paid off.

Tactically, it was a masterclass, and a coaching victory for O’Gara, along with his assistants Donnacha Ryan, Gurthro Steenkamp, ​​Romain Carmignani and Sebastien Boboul.

“My immediate reaction is that I am the coach, the boys accepted me, they found me a little strict and difficult at the beginning, demanding, repetitive, but I have a very good group. I love going to the training ground, I like to try to stimulate them, I like to try to make the most of them.

“It’s a group that just needed to be brought together a bit and you had to find the finish line. That’s where the leaders became very important. They were tired of the competition. They wanted to win. They wanted it for each other.

“We will go home with the Champions Cup. It’s a special day, a special story. It really is. I’m thrilled. I don’t show it but I’m very, very, very proud of them” , he added.

Given the extent of their underdog label, it would have been easy and probably understandable for O’Gara to play up to that in the win, but he wouldn’t take the ‘no one gave us a chance’ bait. “. There were no old scores settled, just praise for his team and also for the opponents, highlighting that despite the trophy sitting between him and his captain Greg Alldritt, they were still catching up with Leinster.

It sounded more like a warning than a wish.

“My phone hasn’t stopped working this morning. Lots of good people wishing me luck. Lots of ex-teammates, lots of guys I played with and they appreciate, I guess, what these boys are doing.

“It was interesting this morning, I ran into a decent Leinster supporter. He just said ‘no matter what, those boys do you proud’. It’s important, that respect for Leinster’s dominance.

“They gave people the passion and the desire, in us, to be as good as them. We are far behind them but today is a great starting point for La Rochelle and it is important that we continue .” “

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