Dan Carter is our Messi and Ronaldo, says Ronan O'Gara
Published 22/04/2016 | 02:30
Ronan O'Gara's status as a European Cup playing great is cast in stone; ten semi-finals, four finals and two memorable final successes all contributed to him being named the best tournament player of all time in 2011.
This Sunday, at Nottingham's famed City Ground, a new chapter in the Cork native's career will beckon when he dons a coaching hat in an 11th semi-final as Racing Metro 92 fly a lone flag for the Top 14 in the final four against two-time former champions Leicester.
They are marginal favourites for the tie - chiefly, it seems, due to Dan Carter's presence in the team - but O'Gara insists that his side do not need to rely on the gifted former All Black World Cup winning out-half.
Carter, to take just one example, has missed just one placed kick of 20 during the side's progress to a maiden semi-final, a 95 per cent rate that stands apart from all his tournament rivals.
"Dan has contributed a lot but there were building blocks in place even before he arrived," claims O'Gara. "I suppose you have Messi and Ronaldo in the soccer and there's Carter in rugby world. But it's very hard to compare them.
"His ability with or without ball gives us presence, leadership and control. But for us it is not based upon one pair of shoulders alone, we have others like Johan Goosen who have done a job there. Other players can fare as well. But he has extraordinary ability."
The French side's quest for European glory has not experienced anything like the heartache that O'Gara had to endure during two losing finals - one, ironically, to Leicester - and a host of semi-finals before lifting the first of two titles in 2006.
Leicester have won five of six semi-finals in the past so their experience could prove crucial against a maturing Metro side.
Last year, the French were highly fancied but came unstuck in the quarter-finals, withdrawing the struggling Irish out-half Jonathan Sexton prematurely before throwing away victory with an indecisive last play.
"The two teams (Metro and Munster) are vastly different from then to now," says O'Gara. "This is an exciting new team challenge in coaching different players. I suppose from my semi-finals, I can bring my experience.
"Beating Toulon was special last time out, they're from the same league, now it is an English team in a football stadium and they both have a lot of history. We have big game players, this is the biggest stage for them.
"It's very easy for me to prepare because it is an exciting week. I'm looking forward to Sunday, we are competing in the Top 14 and that is a hard championship so getting into the English sunshine is really exciting for us."
Leicester were lucky to beat Munster in the pool stages but O'Gara has detected a massive shift in the midlanders even since then, with the Kiwi influence of Aaron Mauger becoming ever more pronounced.
They have the best attack (30 tries scored) in the competition as they face off against the best defence (7); Metro have conceded 12 tries or less in their last five games against English sides.
Something has to give.
"Theirs is a New Zealand template and they're a country who know most about rugby in the world," reckons O'Gara, one of five Irish coaches involved in the final four of Europe's two competitions this weekend. "They are really organised and playing potent rugby. They kept it tight in past, when we used to play them. They had a monster pack, lineout drives, unbelievably big characters.
"But you can see that with my own old team, you have to evolve and they have. They're not playing Baa-baa style rugby, they have an impressive structure to it.
"What shocked me rate of acceleration in developing their game.
"I saw Munster playing them and Munster were unlucky not to beat them but since then Leicester have taken their game 60 per cent forward from there.
"We have to be careful, the speed the English and Irish play is faster than here. We are 80 minutes from a final though and we are still in the league. We're more ready than we were last year, for sure."