Ronan O’Gara signs three year deal to stay with La Rochelle

A serial winner, the 44-year-old Munster legend continues to thrive as a coach abroad
Ronan O’Gara signs three year deal to stay with La Rochelle

La Rochelle head coach Ronan O'Gara. Picture: Matt Impey/Sportsfile

THE Munster faithful would love to see Ronan O’Gara back on these shores, but his success with La Rochelle has seen him handed the top job and a three-year deal in France.

The 44-year-old moves from head coach to 'head of the team' or Director of Rugby, with Jono Gibbes switching to Clermont in June. Before then O'Gara and his charges face Leinster in the Champions Cup semi-final on the May Bank Holiday weekend.

Outspoken and a serial winner as a Munster and Irish out-half, he always came across as a head coach in the making. He’s eschewed the easy options at every turn since he hung up his boots. He could have stayed on with the Reds in 2013, for one last season, but took up a coaching role at Racing 92, working with Johnny Sexton, his former rival for the green number 10 geansaí.

Ronan O'Gara celebrates as he heads to score his try against Leinster in 2006. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Ronan O'Gara celebrates as he heads to score his try against Leinster in 2006. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

After cutting his teeth in Paris, the time appeared right to come home, but, instead, he went further afield again, to Crusaders, in New Zealand. Then came his most significant move, stepping into the top job at La Rochelle, back in France. Now, he stands between his old foes, Leinster, and their shot at a fifth Champions Cup. La Rochelle will host Leo Cullen’s side, after crushing Sale 45-21 in the quarter-final, on the back of an impressive victory over Gloucester.

The only pity is that another Corkonian in France, Simon Zebo, won’t get to play in the last four, with Racing, after they were beaten by Bordeaux-Begles. But at least we know he's back with Munster next season.

What’s fascinating about O’Gara’s stint with La Rochelle is how free-flowing and attractive their rugby is. The 44-year-old excelled in a Munster unit that was as much about brawn and heart as it was flair.

“It’s a mindset,” O’Gara said to BT Sport about the emphasis on off-loading. “That interests me hugely. There’s a massive ruck focus in the northern hemisphere and, then, when you go to the Crusaders it’s KBA: Keep ball alive.

We’re trying to have speed on the passing and keeping it alive. There’s a risk with that. 

"We were good, at times, and inaccurate, at times, but that’s the beauty of our game. There’s a big emphasis on identifying space.”

Picture: Matt Impey/Sportsfile
Picture: Matt Impey/Sportsfile

He utilises his experience as a fly-half at the elite level when deciding on pre-match tactics. Box-kicking into oblivion isn’t on the agenda.

“Every time I create a game-plan, I look at, ‘What would I like?’ if I was out there and, conversely, ‘What don’t I like the opposition doing to me?’ We’ve a great mix and variety and it’s fascinating coaching them.”

Levani Botia has been one of La Rochelle’s marquee performers and O’Gara explained how the Fijian has to be handled in a positive and understanding way. 

“He’s a dream,” O’Gara said. “I was lucky to spend a bit of time in Fiji, when I was coaching in New Zealand, and you have to understand the person first. They’re very affectionate and they like a lot of love and you’ve gotta get the best out of them.

“You understand why, sometimes, they come back two weeks late from summer holidays, but it’s, ‘No worry, no hurry, Fiji-time’. But how good is he.”

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