Thursday 19 April 2018

Ronan O'Gara: 'It's no secret that Paul O'Connell and I want to team up'

O'Gara wants to work with O'Connell

Ronan O’Gara congratulates Paul O’Connell after Ireland’s 2014 Six Nations triumph. Photo: Sportsfile
Ronan O’Gara congratulates Paul O’Connell after Ireland’s 2014 Six Nations triumph. Photo: Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

The present is proving pretty stressful for Munster fans as they await white smoke on the appointment of a director of rugby and fret over their European future as the run-in enters squeaky bum time.

So, the words of Ronan O'Gara might just offer them a glimpse of a more hopeful future. Their former hero is contracted to remain in Paris until 2019 and says he is still learning his trade, but it is clear that a return home is somewhere in his long-term plan and he hopes to come back with a familiar face.

On the pitch, he and Paul O'Connell formed a formidable leadership combination and, while there is no guarantee that that would transfer to the coaching booth, the prospect is a tantalising one.

The recently-retired Ireland captain has yet to make up his mind on his next steps, but has already visited the set-ups at Harlequins and Grenoble as he adjusts to life after rugby.

O'Gara is three years down that road and is learning constantly alongside the co-coaches Laurent Labit and Laurent Travers at Racing as their assistant with responsibility for skills, kicking and defence.


In the past year, he has been linked with a position in the Ireland set-up, while Anthony Foley's struggles at Munster have led to calls for a return to his home province.

The former out-half is patiently learning his craft, however, and sees no rush to return prematurely.

"I wouldn't have a clue," he said when asked about the clamour for his return.

"No, I would have my head firmly fixed on trying to achieve something here. I need to learn, basically, this is only my third year as a coach. I'm nowhere near ready. I understand a lot of it, but I have no idea how to coach the attack game fluently yet.

"When you're standing in front of Munster or Irish players, they spot a spoofer straight away. I'm still at the spoofing stage. I need to get it all on autopilot. I don't have that at the minute, I just think it's better for me too because you see things differently when you get out anyway.

"It's a great league and it's hugely challenging. There will definitely be time to come home, but it's nowhere near. It wouldn't be the right thing to do, to come home after three years. There's no way you'd be developed."

The first Munster captain to lift the Heineken Cup 10 years ago, Foley's position in the province's history has not protected him from fierce criticism after two underwhelming seasons in charge.

O'Gara has watched closely from his remove in Paris and is fully aware that his and O'Connell's reputations will only get them so far.

"They'd be crying out for Paulie, but then if Paulie didn't get the results, they'd be showing him the door. We're all aware of that," he said.

"I talk to Paulie, Paulie will be an exceptionally good coach and it's no secret of the two of ours that we want to team up. It's about getting the right opportunity."

Could that opportunity come at Racing?

"No, but depending on what role he wants there's always something potentially," he said.

"Any fella who has his head screwed on will be looking to snap him up. It's a case of trying to get a plan together between us and start competing as a unit, because that's what we both want to do.

"He's still just readjusting and you've got to appreciate that too, because your head is all over the place when you come out of rugby."

Much has changed since O'Gara exited the stage in Montpellier after a narrow defeat to Clermont Auvergne in the semi-final of the 2013 European Cup, with Munster travelling to Galway this weekend in danger of missing out on the main event next season.

Connacht, meanwhile, are riding high; second in the table and playing some scintillating rugby.

Ireland's record points scorer watched their narrow defeat to Grenoble on Saturday night and saw something very familiar.

"My mum and dad were over and I just said to them, 'It's like Munster 15 years ago'. Them all suppin' pints in the crowd, every one going bananas," he said.

"It's such a great occasion to be part of and Grenoble with a serious team, Birch (Bernard Jackman) and Prendy (Mike Prendergast) going well there. I thought it was just fascinating to watch, it was everything good about Irish rugby, for a small nation."

The westerners have come in for some criticism after they let strong positions slip at the Stade des Alpes, with rookie fly-half Shane O'Leary making some critical errors in a mixed display.

And, while O'Gara agrees that they could have tightened up and controlled the game better, he believes that Pat Lam's side will learn from the experience.

"They're exceptionally clinical and accurate and they just so believe in their game-plan and what they're being coached. It's fascinating to watch, but at 19-3 when things are going so well, sometimes you just have to take the pace out of the game," he said.

"That's not me saying something off my high horse, it's just a humble opinion on it. At 19-3, a penalty 10 minutes later and another 10 penalties makes it a three-score game, which mentally is insurmountable.

"It's so much easier watching it on a computer. When you're out there, it's not that easy.

"They have a different out-half and I think he has huge potential, I thought O'Leary had great moments but that happened. I learned those kind of mistakes in the AIL, he's learning them in Stade des Alpes.

"That'll stand to him and accelerate his development. It's great he's getting an opportunity like that."

Connacht's exit removed any Irish provincial interest in Europe this season and O'Gara's Racing 92 are the last remaining team which can stop an English club from claiming the Champions Cup for the first time since 2007. "The great thing for us is that beating Toulon was a massive step forward for the club,"he said.

"We can talk all we want about it, but we've never done it before. It's the first time ever getting to a semi-final, so it's important to savour that and hopefully guys will get confidence from it. We're 160 minutes away from winning something, so that's nice."

It would be a big step forward for O'Gara too on a road that might one day lead back to Thomond Park.

Irish Independent

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