Sunday 20 October 2019

Comment: Why working with Schmidt will be prime opportunity for Ronan O'Gara


Ronan O'Gara
Ronan O'Gara
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

The Joe Schmidt academy for coaches will open for business in June, offering one-week rotations aboard the deck of Ireland's ship.

With Andy Farrell seconded to the Lions, the New Zealander has opted to open his doors and welcome three young Irish operators on board to contribute to the cause, experience the environment and, most importantly, to learn.

Ronan O'Gara is the most compelling figure of the trio which also includes Munster's Felix Jones and Leinster's Girvan Dempsey, who will join Schmidt, Simon Easterby, Greg Feek and Richie Murphy on the summer tour.

O'Gara will join the United States leg, before Dempsey and Jones do a week each in Japan.

The Racing 92 assistant is the only foreign-based figure in the backroom team and his presence will make that first week worth watching.

Few figures in Irish sport capture the imagination like the Corkman whose coaching career is being closely monitored by the IRFU who have been criticised for their over-reliance on overseas imports at the top level.

By calling O'Gara in, Schmidt is indicating that the union see a future in the system for Ireland's highest points scorer who called time on his playing career in 2013.

IRFU performance director David Nucifora has placed a premium on experience and coaching knowledge when it comes to the top provincial jobs and, while Leo Cullen remains the outlier, the presence of Stuart Lancaster alongside the former Leinster captain means that there is a strong coaching intellect in each of the four roles.

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Nucifora has spoken about the need to get the indigenous coaches up to that level and Dempsey, Jones and O'Gara fit the profile of young men new to the trade who will take much from a chance to watch Schmidt at close quarters.

Jones played under the Kiwi, while Dempsey will have seen his work when he was managing Leinster's academy.

O'Gara, meanwhile, has always been positive about Schmidt in his punditry having listened to his former team-mates rave about the his methods.

Schmidt is a hugely respected coach, renowned for his attention to detail who is in the second act of this role building towards the 2019 World Cup.

He will vacate the job after that tournament and his exit is likely to see the merry-go-round kick into gear as Nucifora's succession planning moves up a notch.

That could be the perfect moment for O'Gara to step back into the Irish system with Munster. The former out-half has made no secret of his desire to lead his former province and by serving a long apprenticeship in Paris he has steadily built towards that moment.

Although Rassie Erasmus's future is uncertain, the plan is for the South African to be in charge until 2019 and he fits the bill as the man to replace Schmidt.

By keeping O'Gara in the loop and exposing him to his methods, the IRFU are facilitating his development towards that point.

It is a shrewd move, an opportunity that O'Gara, Jones and Dempsey couldn't pass up and it can only be a positive for the future of Irish coaching.

Read more here:

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