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'One person can bring the whole thing down' - Ronan O'Gara on the rugby restart


Ronan O'Gara is entering into his second season as head coach of La Rochelle in the Top 14. Photo by Romain Biard/Sportsfile

Ronan O'Gara is entering into his second season as head coach of La Rochelle in the Top 14. Photo by Romain Biard/Sportsfile

Ronan O'Gara is entering into his second season as head coach of La Rochelle in the Top 14. Photo by Romain Biard/Sportsfile

The Munster squad returned to their High Performance today, and will undergo the third phase of the IRFU's testing programme.

The province will then face an anxious few days to see if Covid-19 has spread within the group after an academy player tested positive last week.

The results of today's tests will be released publicly later this week, as will the results from the other three provinces ahead of this weekend's planned return to action.

The academy player has been self-isolating since reporting symptoms of the coronavirus, while six of his team-mates, including a senior player, have also had to take the same course of action having been identified as potential close contacts.

Munster are due to ramp up their preparations for Saturday's showdown with Leinster at the Aviva Stadium, but their plans hit a stumbling block after last week's confirmed case.

Over in France, rugby is also beginning to return, but the rampant spread of the virus in the Stade Francais squad has served as another cautionary tale for every sports team.

Up to 25 of Stade's players and staff tested positive, which appeared to put next month's Top 14 return into doubt.

However, Ronan O'Gara, who is about to embark on his second season as La Rochelle head coach, explained that the word from league officials is that rugby will resume in France, unless the French government says otherwise.

"The message we’ve received is it’s going on, so Stade Francais, they’ve had 30 cases but that’s not going to stop the competition," O'Gara said this morning via a video conference.

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"It’s not going to stop the Top 14, so whoever they have to put out on a certain weekend, if they have a lot of cases it’s up to the clubs to manage.

"So the show is going on it seems, in terms of there won’t be any great pauses like there has been in the past, I don’t think.

"Obviously, it’s a pandemic, if it’s out of control completely then there might be a review but the information we’ve received is that if your guys have tested positive then they’ve got to go to self-isolation for nine days and then review it.

"I think that’s why it’s important with the academy and the professional team and players you have, you’re going to have to put out 23 players every week."

To date, La Rochelle have produced zero positive results, which has come as a major boost, but O'Gara knows how precarious the whole situation remains.

"It’s very hard to know because we don’t know if you get the virus how sick you actually get as sports people, so it’s kinda make it up as we go along, which is not ideal," the former Munster and Ireland out-half continued.

"I think it’s difficult for coaches to know. I mean, you've a certain idea of a training plan in your head and a certain idea of who’s going to be available for this session and then all of a sudden it can change.

"It just seems incredibly surreal what’s going on at the minute but the alternative is that everybody goes back into lockdown and I don’t know if that’s the solution.

"I think we’re going to have to try and, unfortunately, live with this virus, and that’s where this club is at the minute.

"We're due to play a game on Saturday and at the minute the game goes ahead because I think Toulouse and ourselves both have a clean bill of health, but depending on how many cases and they can arrive at any stage of testing, which could happen three or four times this week and then before the game.

"So there are different hypotheses for scenario A, B or C, but I think the rules coming down from the FFR is that the games will go ahead unless the French government come in over their heads and say, 'Okay, shut down'."

La Rochelle have made a big effort to ensure they do their bit to contain the virus, but O'Gara admitted that as soon as the players leave the training centre, the coaches have no control over how they behave or who they interact with.

From that end, O'Gara insists that there is a huge responsibility on every individual.

"We had a bit of a period there where we thought we were getting back to normal but that’s been hit with a big bang with a lot of new cases," he added.

"It’s good, though, we’re tested three times a week, so your life is decided really, whether you’re positive or negative, you know? We’ve had no cases. I don’t know how much longer that can last for but this area is generally good.

"I’m not a doctor and I think that’s why it’s important, I mean, it’s not all placed on his shoulders but there’s many meetings a day because the plan can change radically and you need direction from experts.

"It’s important you stress that the people who are making decisions are medical people and everything that they say comes way above what Jono (Gibbes) and myself say because we’re rugby coaches, we don’t have any amount of experience in dealing with any pandemics.

"The most I’ve had in my time was the foot and mouth and that wasn’t us who decided anything, as players or as coaches.

"I’ve experienced every possible emotion in terms of how this could be played out - getting my parents over, not allowed; going back to see them, not allowed.

"The information we’ve received from our medical experts here is that you don’t know when or where the virus could hit, so you have to be extremely disciplined in your behaviour in terms of your mask and cleaning your hands at every possible opportunity.

"So in that regard you’re very aware of your responsibilities and also of informing your players of their responsibilities but other than that I try to control what I can control and what we can control in our environment.

"But people when they leave the building, you have absolutely no idea what they’re doing and who they’re engaging with. So in that case, one person can bring the whole thing down."

Ronan O'Gara was speaking as an ambassador for Guinness, who in collaboration with BuJo have created two limited edition kits, one for Leinster and one for Munster, for the ultimate rugby at home experience, the Guinness x Bujo Home Kits.

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