Forced smiles as O'Gara's French champions sweat
Published 12/10/2016 | 02:30
We all expected a legendary out-half to dominate the build-up to Munster's visit to Racing 92 to kick off their daunting Champions Cup campaign.
But, for now, it is not Ronan O'Gara.
Instead, the world will be waiting with bated breath to hear what the French Rugby Federation's disciplinary commission have to say upon the matter of l'affaire corticoides and whether their use upon Dan Carter, amongst others, transgressed the rules.
James Cronin's appearance before the beaks for a weekend stamping incident on Jamison Gibson-Park in the Aviva means that all eyes today will be on what happens in the boardrooms of Glasgow and Paris, not the training grounds of Limerick and Colombes.
This should have been a week of celebration for the famous Parisian club - feted at the sport's annual awards ceremony on Monday night.
Instead they are embroiled beneath the shining light of inquisition as the game faces up to some tough questions about whether or not its often cavalier attitude to helping its battered players onto the field of play veered into illegal territory.
The club's attitude has understandably not softened since O'Gara himself defended their processes in weekend press interviews.
On Monday night, as a comedian joked about the controversy at the lavish awards ceremony where champions Racing 92 were feted and key players like Johan Goosen garnered individual gongs, Carter, Juan Imhoff and Joe Rokocoko were ushered in and out a side exit, gagged from talking to the media about the affair.
Instead, club president Jackie Lorenzetti went on the offensive ahead of today's hearing.
"I have a strong sense of injustice," said Lorenzetti. "The hearing is on Wednesday and then we will explain to the media.
"At this moment I think of my family, the players, the father of Juan Imhoff who is a doctor and knows the integrity of his son, my mother of 92 years who asked me if my players were drugged, my children.
"Dan and Joe are exceptional men. The players are affected and have anger. We are very angry. We can not leave things like that."
O'Gara, as well as joint head coaches Laurent Labit and Laurent Travers, were also award-winners but instead of wallowing in glory - though O'Gara was in cheery mood as the backroom team posed for photos - they also launched a sternly defiant mood.
"We are all affected, whether it is the players, coaches or managers," added Travers. "What we must not forget is that behind this, there are men, fathers and families.
"The procedure will be completed Wednesday and then we'll do what we have to do. We talk about the big rugby family at our awards celebrations but we see that there is also a lot of hypocrisy.
"We will not say that it is the ball of hypocrites but almost! When we read statements in daily former players who have spent most of their careers in the infirmary, it is funny to see that they take positions that were not there when they played."
It is not as if Racing 92 have enough to worry about on the field.
Racing narrowly avoided notching up their fifth game without a victory, Camille Chat's 79th-minute try eventually proving decisive in seeing off Stade Francais 29-22 after Jules Plisson had seemingly nabbed a late draw with a penalty in the previous play.
Carter remains absent through injury; Remi Tales, solid but hardly as spectacular, deputises for the side who are, nonetheless, still unbeaten at home.
Dimitri Szarzewski is also sidelined with rib trouble but may return for the visit to Leicester in round two while Rokocoko and, particularly, Imhoff, thrive in a back three fired by full-back Brice Dulin.
Carter did deign to speak briefly for a pooled interview on Monday, declaring his happiness with his efforts last season as he beamed a familiar, broad smile.
Whether he is still smiling once the FFR have concluded their inquest remains to be seen.