Friday 21 July 2017

What merger means for Ronan O'Gara as French giants join forces

Ronan O’Gara’s future in Paris remains unclear. Photo: GETTY
Ronan O’Gara’s future in Paris remains unclear. Photo: GETTY
David Kelly

David Kelly

After what even by French Top 14 standards was a tumultuous day, the future of Ronan O'Gara as a result of the shock merger between the last two champions, Paris-based Racing 92 and Stade Francais, remains unclear.

Although contracted until 2019 after penning an extension earlier this season, only the futures of Racing joint head coaches Laurent Travers and Laurent Labit have been officially sanctioned for the new entity.

After a frenetic day of activity ensued following the sudden announcement - effectively it is more like a takeover of Stade by Racing 92 and their millionaire owner Jacky Lorenzetti - there was more confusion than clarification.

"This association, effective from next season, must give birth to a new club that will preserve the roots of Racing 92 as those of the Stade Français Paris while multiplying the means put at the service of youth and French rugby," Racing said in a statement.

Stade's players immediately announced a possible intention of strike action as, although there had been rumours of a merger for months, their visibly shocked players were only informed yesterday and told "voluntary redundancies" would be welcomed.

Retained

The 90 professional players are expected to be shared between both clubs while the Racing 92 coaches are to be retained; whether that is en masse remained to be confirmed but O'Gara's status is more likely to remain unchanged.

Stade had already announced the appointment of Kiwi coach Greg Cooper to replace Gonzalo Quesada.

Munster supporters may have been alerted to O'Gara's putative availability but their former captain has always stressed that a return home is not an immediate option for him.

The current crisis may alter that perception but Munster director of rugby Rassie Erasmus, although continuing to radically overhaul his playing staff this summer, is happy with his coaching arrangements, particularly the influence of Felix Jones.

"Of course I would like to return," said defence coach O'Gara after his side's Champions Cup game in Thomond Park earlier this year.

"It's a special club. Look at the ground tonight. I think anyone who isn't impressed with what they produce here isn't right in the head.

"It's an incredible place. The people are so passionate - it's everything that's good about sport.

"I was lucky to be on that rollercoaster for a long time; now you've got to go away and see how other cultures work, and then hopefully come back when you're the finished article."

O'Gara was visibly angered by the manner in which his players succumbed to Munster in the reverse leg of that fixture but has offered no indication of any desire not to fulfil the rest of his contract with the club.

What that club will be called is, at yet, unclear; nor where they will play. League chiefs have endorsed the move and it may be good news for Bernard Jackman's Grenoble. Marooned in the second relegation spot, they may now still stay up in a prospective play-off against a second division side.

They may have to do endure some impending trouble off the field, though, as allegations of rape against some players were made after the weekend defeat to Bordeaux.

Despite that win, Bordeaux coach Raphael Ibanez, who undermined Ian Madigan's short, troubled stint before the former Leinster playmaker announced his departure, will also be on his way after he was sacked.

On a slow news day, clearly, the French Federation also found time to reject the proposed club calendar for the 2016/17 season.

Irish Independent

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