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Vincent Hogan: Truth stranger than fiction after O'Gara's shock switch

The contrarian in Ronan O'Gara will have savoured what disbelief his old 'friends' in 'L'Equipe' triggered across Irish rugby with their first rumblings of his impending move to Paris.

The contrarian in Ronan O'Gara will have savoured what disbelief his old 'friends' in 'L'Equipe' triggered across Irish rugby with their first rumblings of his impending move to Paris.

Were it not for the story making an edition of France's renowned sports broadsheet newspaper, it would have been natural to soundly ridicule any notion of O'Gara finding employment with Racing Metro as a coach to – among others – the newly-signed Jonny Sexton.

Yet, confirmation, indeed, followed, O'Gara having reputedly met Racing's wealthy president Jacky Lorenzetti in London yesterday. He has, we believe, signed a two-year deal to become part of the coaching ticket as well as a mentor within Racing's youths section.

Having had well-documented difficulties with the French media – and 'L'Equipe' in particular – that country was, ostensibly at least, perhaps never the most obvious destination for O'Gara.

But there are opportunities, both financial and professional, within Top 14 rugby today that will forever be unimaginable within the tight structures of the Irish game.


O'Gara had already indicated a desire to take the first steps into coaching, despite the offer of another one-year contract to continue playing with Munster. And those first steps were never likely to be taken at home.

That he should sign up to the club about to employ Sexton, with whom he has spent the last four years vying for the Irish No 10 shirt, adds an almost mischievous dimension to the story.

No doubt the picture archives will have been trawled last night for that photograph of Sexton bending low to holler something in O'Gara's ear after a Leinster try in the famous Heineken Cup semi-final at Croke Park in May of 2009.

In many respects, that image obscured the professional similarities between two hugely gifted footballers for whom compromise of any sort has always seemed repugnant.

In camp, they may never have been the closest of friends, but they did come to establish a decent working relationship, founded on mutual respect.

Their kicking philosophy would have been taken from the same manual too, Sexton having worked closely in recent years with the kicking guru that O'Gara himself sought out more than a decade ago.

After the Corkman was selected to tour Australia with the Lions in '01, he requested sessions with England kicking-coach Dave Alred, through sponsors adidas.

Both men flew to Dublin where, in Wanderers' ground on Merrion Road, Alred proceeded to completely reconstruct O'Gara's kicking action.

His great triumph had been the sense of certainty he'd already threaded into Jonny Wilkinson's kicking for England and, on that Lions tour, O'Gara became a fascinated observer of Wilkinson on the training-ground.

To him, England's No 10 represented the level he aspired to reach, O'Gara expressing fascination for a manufactured process that – as he put it – provided "an automatic conclusion."

By the time Munster won their first Heineken Cup in '06, he had reached a place-kicking conversion rate of 80pc plus.

And, in Brendan Fanning's remarkable portrait of Irish rugby's journey into professionalism, 'From There to Here', O'Gara articulated the confidence he experienced when even exceeding that rate during Munster's three knockout games.

"I'd be lying if I said that up to this year, goal-kicking didn't occupy 90pc of my thoughts going into a game," he told Fanning. "Fear of failure. Fear of letting the team down. And that's a different pressure .

"Obviously, in the quarters and semi-final and final especially, I felt pressure.

"But I never doubted my technique whereas, in previous years, of course I had worries about it. This year, once I've hit the pitch, I've clicked into routine mode."

That very certainty, that cold submission to a process governed by mechanics and endless repetition, would – at the time – have been anathema to the French, for whom rugby was still a matter of beauty and impulse.

But Wilkinson's boot won the World Cup for England in '03 and, heaven knows, O'Gara's boot would subsequently win an eternity of big games for both Munster and Ireland.

Some time ago, the penny dropped in France. Good goal-kickers were actually worth their weight in gold.

That said, it remains a moot point if yesterday's appointment represents some kind of solo run on behalf of the Racing president, given the club's new joint coaches – Laurent Labit and Laurent Travers – had a name for personally overseeing all aspects of team preparation at previous employers, Castres.

They have already stressed to in-coming English-speaking players like Sexton and Welsh duo Jamie Roberts and Dan Lydiate, that they will be coaching entirely in French next season.

It seems scarcely credible, thus, that they would sanction the introduction of an entirely inexperienced member to their coaching staff, indeed one that – presumably – may struggle to be instantly proficient in the local lingo.

Whether Sexton is enthused by the appointment, only he can answer.

I understand that O'Gara had discussions too with Stade Francais about the possibility of overseeing the work of their academy, but his meeting with Lorenzetti yesterday looks to have decanted a position of higher profile and, we must assume, financial reward.

It leaves two of Irish rugby's biggest personalities now preparing for a new professional life together in Paris and the game here, suddenly, shorn of two world class No 10s.

The end of an era undoubtedly then and in a fashion the wildest fiction writers could never have foreseen.

Irish Independent