CORK rugby legend Ronan O’Gara says that it wasn’t until he had taken the first month of the pandemic off that he realised how drained he was.
The former Munster and Ireland out-half had been going at full tilt between going from Racing straight to Cantebury and from there straight back to La Rochelle to take up a head coaching spot, he was on full throttle all the time without even realising it.
It also allowed him to examine the Top 14 side from the top to the bottom and realise that the culture in the club isn’t where he wants it to be.
“It has been a long time now since rugby. For the first month basically, I took a break, got away from it. I didn't really know how long it would go.
“I was probably shattered, physically and mentally because I had kinda nearly done two seasons as one – going from Super Rugby into Top 14.
“I think our game against Racing was our last. We got destroyed in that game and it was a game too far for everyone in our group, which meant our culture wasn't where it needed to be,” says O’Gara.
“That got my mind working overtime and the fact that was the biggest improvement that was needed. We needed a stronger group in terms of what we stand for.
“I don't think the rugby was the issue. It was probably getting what we stand for out there.
“I chatted to a lot of coaches during the lockdown period, but also, I think it was a great self-reflection time asking how I can get better while doing this?
“It has made a lot more people accountable because the whole machine has stopped and once the machine stops for while you have to be accountable, you have to be responsible for what you are bringing to the whole organisation.”
He says his time in New Zealand with the Crusaders has helped change his coaching mindset. Before his travels Down Under, he would have had a rigid set of ideas about rugby and rugby environment but now he is far more open to change.
“In that regard, going to New Zealand would have changed my mindset. I would have been fixed on a lot of ideas, but now I am very open and very much of a growth mindset policy.
“In that regard, I suppose doing a lot of reading and a lot of chatting with people. But also, just going over little ideas here and there to make sure you are on top of things,” says the former Munster number 10.
While he has adopted a lot of the New Zealand mindset, he doesn’t want to lose what culture is there already in the Top 14 club so it has been a case of trying to find the best fit for him as the head coach and the players he has under him.
“Yeah and to be honest and it would be a mistake trying to implement the Crusaders culture here. It would never work. It's just poles apart. The great thing about living a culture in the Crusaders is you're not comparing like for like. You try and take the best bits from Munster, from Ireland, from the Lions, from the Crusaders, from Racing.
“I remember starting at Racing and it was a very different club than it is now and that takes a bit of time. That's not any excuse to buy you time.”
Last season, his side went close but fell over the last few weeks of the Top 14 and O’Gara says they must learn to live and thrive off the bitter taste of defeat if they are to move on as a team and a club, the fact that the Top 14 will be completed as a knockout rather than a league system will help bring out the best in his side’s competitive spirit he hopes.
“We were in a good position in that regard to challenge for silverware in the domestic league but you're left very empty with the fact that you play 19 games and then it's just over.
"So in one way it feels like you're absolutely back to zero and starting from scratch which I think you have to appreciate how the world has changed and what the pandemic brought.
"There's a different animal comes out when competitive games are being played and it's knockout, as opposed to a league scenario.”