Sport Rugby

Wednesday 22 May 2019

Ronan O'Gara says he will put family ahead of Ireland and Munster ambitions

Ronan O'Gara. Photo: Getty Images
Ronan O'Gara. Photo: Getty Images

Mick Cleary

In the grand 'Wild Geese' traditions brought about by the Treaty of Limerick in the late 17th century, Ronan O'Gara is another who has taken flight to find employment overseas, first in Paris, now in New Zealand, bettering himself with a view one day perhaps to helping coach Munster and Ireland.

O'Gara may not be in as sharp-end a trade as those soldiers of old fighting for foreign armies but there is little doubt that he has exposed himself to the sort of sporting skirmishes that have led to a battle-hardened, worldly-wise individual.

The New Zealand mantra is, ‘Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I will remember. Involve me and I will understand.’ Photo: Getty Images
The New Zealand mantra is, ‘Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I will remember. Involve me and I will understand.’ Photo: Getty Images

He has learnt the inner ways of New Zealand rugby at Crusaders, the Super Rugby champions, in much the manner that Graham Henry, Steve Hansen, Joe Schmidt and many other Kiwis did by coming to Europe to hone their coaching skills before heading home to transfer that knowledge back into the system.

O'Gara admits that he is a different person to when he played, less "stressed and agitated", more upbeat and positive, soul enriched, mind broadened by his travels.

For all his global wanderings, first for four years as kicking/skills coach at Racing 92 and, since the turn of the year, at the Crusaders, O'Gara remains a man of his upbringing, proudly wearing his Munster tie as he was invested into the Hall of Fame in Rugby in midweek.

The 41-year-old former fly-half, who still has a family base in Paris with his wife and five children, returns to pre-season training with Crusaders in November with a year of his contract still to run.

O'Gara is doing what Eddie Jones believes English coaches should do by getting experience in other countries, absorbing and cherry-picking knowledge.

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The Irish coaching diaspora is spread far and wide: O'Gara at Crusaders; Paul O'Connell and Mike Prendergast at Stade Francais; Mark McCall at Saracens and Conor O'Shea in Italy. The Ireland succession plan is in place.

O'Gara, approaching his sixth year of sporting study abroad, would love one day to return to his native surroundings to coach. Quite when is another matter.

"It's good to get out and see the world," says O'Gara. "Munster is still special to me. That (experience) is what made me. The longer it is over, the more you appreciate it. I would love to be thought of as coaching Munster and Ireland one day. You have got to be ambitious. But that is not for now. I have no grand game-plan in that regard. What interests me is being valued in an environment, and that's what I've got at the Crusaders and they are my focus.

"I'll have a look again after the World Cup (in October 2019) when there will be a significant movement of coaches. But it is a hard thing to decide on particularly when it might be six (wife, Jess, and children) against one. There are massive family implications. The (older) kids will go to secondary school in the next three years. I'm not prepared to put my coaching ahead of their schooling."

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Ronan O’Gara with his wife Jess at yesterday’s ceremony in Rugby.

The family returned to Paris in July from their Christchurch base in Fendalton. O'Gara will look to add to his coaching repertoire by visiting clubs and working on his own personal development before heading back in two months. New Zealand rarely, if ever, looks outside for either players or coaches. It was O'Gara's connection with Racing 92 fly-half Dan Carter - a son of Canterbury - that helped link the Irishman with Crusaders' head coach, Scott 'Razor' Robertson, who made his mind up to appoint O'Gara when he heard him speak of coaching in New Zealand as "the holy grail".

It has been an immersive experience; eye-opening, too.

"The positivity of rugby in New Zealand has rubbed off on me," says O'Gara.

"It has changed me massively. It is intense but fascinating. I had no idea of their way of coaching. I was of the model of telling players. They don't believe in that. Their mantra is, 'Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I will remember. Involve me and I will understand.' The level of rugby intellect there is incredible. But they work hard, too. Nothing is taken for granted."

All of which builds towards the $64 million dollar question - can the All Blacks be beaten? And what is the secret to that end?

"Genuinely, there is no secret but no one believes that," says O'Gara.

"Coaches who coached me overestimated the All Blacks. If you are getting that from the head coach then it filters into the heads of the players. New Zealanders are humble and they practise skills, running, passing. Simple things to say but complex actions on the field.

"But the players there come in every day with this desire to get better, every day. Of course, the All Blacks can be beaten. But consistently beaten? I don't know about that.

"I don't think the natural talent is any better than what we have here. One thing you know, though, is that the All Blacks will perform. It is up to the other nations to perform, too."

And surely one day it will be O'Gara, perhaps in a double act with his Munster mate, O'Connell, plotting and scheming to make sure that Ireland do just that.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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