Wednesday 26 June 2019

Cian Tracey: 'Next stop Munster for Ronan O'Gara after La Rochelle confirm his new role as head coach'

 

Ronan O'Gara is currently the Crusaders backs coach in Super Rugby. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Ronan O'Gara is currently the Crusaders backs coach in Super Rugby. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
'O’Gara will forever hold legendary status in Munster, yet he is mindful of that legacy currently in, you can understand why he wasn’t overly keen to rush back at this juncture.' Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

As a player, there was rarely a dull moment in Ronan O'Gara's career and since turning his hand to coaching, his journey has not disappointed thus far.

He's only six years in the coaching box, but O'Gara has already achieved more than what many would hope to accomplish in a prolonged spell.

And the most exciting part of it all, one suspects, is that the best is yet to come.

Next stop is La Rochelle, where O'Gara will take a considerable step up the ladder to become a head coach for the first time.

From Cork to Paris to Christchurch to the south of France - this has been a carefully-plotted route that is intended to give him every chance of succeeding when he eventually does return to these shores.

When Felix Jones surprised Munster by informing them that he would not be signing the contract that was on offer, it seemed for all the world that the stars were finally aligning for a homecoming that was almost as anticipated as Shane Ross' greeting of Katie Taylor at Dublin Airport.

Munster are currently in the market for a new backs and attack coach and it wasn't for the lack of trying that O'Gara didn't end up in that role.

The 42-year-old's home province are believed to have made several inquiries regarding O'Gara's interest in returning, but it failed to get off the ground, simply because he wanted to do it on his own terms, and who could blame him for that?

O'Gara will forever hold legendary status in Munster, yet he is mindful of that legacy and given the transitional state that the province are currently in, you can understand why he wasn't overly keen to rush back at this juncture.

Had the circumstances been different - and it was the big gig that was on offer - the feeling is that O'Gara would have given it more consideration.

As it has transpired, however, he will continue to build his experience in France with an ambitious club like La Rochelle.

It will be fascinating to see how the dynamic works between O'Gara and Jono Gibbes, who in case you have forgotten, didn't actually end up staying at home in New Zealand like he suggested he would when he ran out of Ulster as quickly as he could last year.

Gibbes is moving into a new director of rugby role and will oversee the entire operation at La Rochelle, but one suspects that O'Gara hasn't been naive enough to take on the head coach position without being given some sort of assurances about being able to put his own stamp on the team.

That is an aspect that his former team-mate Paul O'Connell struggled with at Stade Francais as forwards coach, and is mainly why he opted to cut short his stay in Paris. O'Gara, however, knows and understands how the French think, having spent four years with Racing 92.

Moving his young family, who had adjusted to the French way of life, halfway across the world to New Zealand was tough and getting them back on more familiar ground, played a key role in the former Ireland out-half's decision.

It speaks volumes about the impact that he has made at the Crusaders (arguably the best club team in the world), that the Super Rugby champions, who are on course to defend their title, offered O'Gara a fresh contract to stay on for next season.

Those kind of opportunities don't come around too often and O'Gara knows that, which is why he cleverly left the door open for a potential return to Christchurch one day.

"While I see this move to La Rochelle as the next step in my coaching career and an exciting opportunity for my young family, I'd like to think, long term, this is not necessarily the end of my time with the Crusaders," he said.

La Rochelle, who were beaten in last weekend's Top 14 semi-final by Toulouse and in last month's Challenge Cup final, have their sights firmly set on becoming a regular French powerhouse who challenge for top honours.

What odds then on La Rochelle ending up in Munster's Champions Cup pool next season, when the draw is made next week?

O'Gara will certainly help improve his new club's culture and will make a back-line, littered with explosive potential, a more attacking threat, assuming he has the full control to do so when he arrives in in late July.

The move bodes well for both parties as well as Munster, who will hope that the next stop along O'Gara's increasingly fascinating journey is home.

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