Tuesday 22 October 2019

O'Gara's first step in coaching marks path towards Munster

Thomond dugout may not be too far away for Rog and O'Connell, says Brendan Fanning

Ronan O'Gara, left, and Paul O'Connell during their Munster days
Ronan O'Gara, left, and Paul O'Connell during their Munster days
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

Not long after Leinster put Stade Francais to bed, Jonny Sexton was being asked about the scarcely credible development that will land himself and Ronan O'Gara in the same club next season.

"I've got a really good relationship with him now, after a rocky start," he says. "We've developed a good friendship over the past few years so if he was to be going to Racing, it would be good for me, it would be good to have someone that I know that I'd be working with on my kicking, if that was the role, and someone to help me settle in. I think his French is good enough, so he can give me lessons as well!"

The idea of giving Sexton lessons in anything would appeal to O'Gara. The likelihood however is that this unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented (thankfully it doesn't qualify for GUBU) turn of events will be good for both of them.

O'Gara will need Sexton as much as Sexton needs O'Gara.

A few asides in the RDS on Friday night reminded the Leinster man that there will be a welcoming committee for him in France.

"They told me that a couple of times: 'See you next year'. They weren't too happy when I threw the ball on the ground when a penalty was awarded. I was hardly going to give it to them and let them go quickly. They told me they'd see me next year. I was like: 'Okay!'"

In O'Gara's career the queue stretches around the block with lads who wanted to see him later. He will be the perfect go-to man for Sexton when the list of gunslingers becomes wearisome.

The quid pro quo will come when the Laurents – Travers and Labit – are doing what they do and running the show their way. At every level of his career O'Gara has had a significant say in how the operation works. Its most recent illustration was the dramatic shift in style between Munster in the 'Pro12 Rob Penney Plan' and Munster in the 'Heineken Cup O'Gara/Paul O'Connell System'.

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It would be unique if a foreign coach with zero experience were to start at the top in France and put a shape on things from the get-go. No, there will be some days when the bus for the big Paris derby pulls out of the ground and O'Gara is not on it. Instead he will already be en route to some crap pitch in a Mickey Mouse town to look after the Espoirs – the Academy lads who get the leftovers. And when it all gets on top of him, struggling to combine the demands of coaching with the battle to break into the clique, having Sexton as a sounding board will be invaluable.

For both men this will be a hard slog, and they will earn every penny that Jacky Lorenzetti throws at them. For Ireland the pay-off will come in their career development.

You can be sure that long term that's where O'Gara sees himself. In the medium term his sights are on the Munster job. That picture is a little hazy at the minute, but when it clears you will see O'Gara and O'Connell running the show down there.

We got a glimpse of it in the aftermath to the Clermont game last month. On the pitch and in the post-match interviews we were looking at old hands together, the future Munster coaching combination.

The implications of this for Anthony Foley are interesting. If the former No 8 is willing the day for Penney to get on a long-haul flight, then he needs to be wary of a threat closer to home. O'Connell's hope is to keep himself together physically and plough on until the World Cup in 2015. And then to coach.

The timing is a bit tricky though. O'Connell can't walk straight into the Munster job without any experience, so will have to do what Foley didn't do, and take himself off somewhere to learn and develop. The best bit for O'Connell however is that he doesn't even need an immediate full-time position to tick this box.

If he were, at his own expense, to head on a coaching tour of the Sanzar nations we imagine he would be welcomed with open arms. The Kiwis especially are incredibly open to outsiders coming in and seeing their systems up close. So if he goes about it the right way O'Connell will be able to minimise the time between playing and coaching.

At almost 28, Jonny Sexton is still young enough to see all this come to pass in his playing lifetime. His hook-up with Ronan O'Gara might be just the start. Paul O'Connell is coming not far behind.

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