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31st May 2022

English clamour for Ronan O’Gara to succeed Eddie Jones grows after Champions Cup win

Patrick McCarry

The Cork native was in the middle of a long response, delivered in flowing French, when he dropped in some English – ‘pick and go, pick and go, pick and go’!

“There were ample excuses in the game to jump ship,” Ronan O’Gara said, in French, at a post-match press conference not long after his La Rochelle side had stunned Leinster to become champions of Europe.

“At 18-10 and with a yellow card [was a big excuse], but they battled with a belief and a vision that they would find a way to win. The boys deserve immense credit for staying on task. If you go off your feet at any of those 150 pick and goes and it goes against us.”

The French side had successfully taken Leinster out of that free-flowing rhythm that serves them so well, but they still needed a 79th minute try to down the Irish giants. One of O’Gara’s first comments, in his chat with BT Sport and in the press briefing, were consoling with the Leinster coaching staff. There was no triumphalism, no bridges being burned. He spoke from the heart.

“When you become a coach it can be quite isolating. That is the ruthless side. You would have to spare a thought for those guys.”

Ronan O’Gara is a smart man. He knows the story.

He may not be returning to Ireland in the next season or two – and who would blame him after witnessing those scenes at the port of La Rochelle? – but he will eventually return, and will be a coach that will do great deeds.

Head coach Ronan O’Gara during the La Rochelle Press Conference at Stade Velodrome in Marseille. (Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile)

The next step, and the one after that

Ronan O’Gara was given great advice, before he retired. Never tell people the end is coming, a sage soul told him, tell people what is coming next.

And so he did. O’Gara would be retiring at the end of the 2012/13 season BUT he was heading to Racing 92 to take up a skills coach position. He would be coaching Johnny Sexton, too, and he did so for two seasons. Sexton would return to Leinster in 2015, but O’Gara stayed on in Paris and would be part of a coaching staff that celebrated Top 14 glory, 12 months on.

Not long after, O’Gara confirmed he was moving on from Racing BUT he would be not taking much of a pause [about a week] before he linked up with Scott Robertson at the Crusaders. Two seasons and two Super Rugby titles later, he was leaving one place BUT announcing he was off to work under La Rochelle director of rugby Jono Gibbes.

When Gibbes headed off to Clermont, O’Gara became top dog. La Rochelle had never won a major title before, but the two-time European Cup winner with Munster told his men there was more than just one target to chase.

“The boys were a bit shocked how much I loved the competition. The Bouclier [Top 14] is a brilliant competition but they weren’t used to the Champions Cup.

“I said we have to win our home game and our away games they said, ‘Coach it’s not possible’. We tried to create a mindset that the Top 14 is a marathon but this is a sprint and once we got some momentum they could see what this crazy Irishman was talking about.”

The impossible became possible in Marseille, on Saturday, and one La Rochelle supporter summed it up perfectly when he declared, “This team made us dream.”

There will be no immediate ‘next step’ for O’Gara. He insisted, on Saturday, that this was only the starting point for his team. He will be targeting at least another season, or two, establishing this club’s credentials and defending that European crown. This season’s Top 14 title is still up for grabs, too.

La Rochelle head coach Ronan O’Gara celebrates with his wife Jessica Daly after his side’s victory in the Heineken Champions Cup Final. (Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile)

Will there ever be a Munster return?

Some of the talk from fans and pundits, in Marseille, after the game was that Ronan O’Gara may have out-grown all Munster talk.

For years, it was always felt that the former outhalf would go back to his province and try lead them to league and European glory. The dream ticket was O’Gara and Paul O’Connell but, considering his impressive coaching journey, O’Gara was the man to take the reins.

Now, with titles won in France, Super Rugby and in Europe’s premier competition, a straight elevation to national coach makes the most sense. Andy Farrell is doing well with Ireland, but we all know that the true melting pot will be the 2023 World Cup.

England are also interested and many of that nation’s leading pundits and rugby writers are openly campaigning for O’Gara to replace Eddie Jones, in 2023 (or sooner!). The Telegraph have already linked him with the job on a few occasions while, in The Times, Alex Lowe wrote:

As the RFU considers who it wants to replace Eddie Jones after the World Cup, Ronan O’Gara should be on the radar. The Irishman is attracted by working for a team with a ‘genuine ambition’ to win the World Cup.’

Over in France, some have speculated that O’Gara could either work together with Fabien Galthie or succeed him after the World Cup, depending on how Les Bleus fare at a tournament they are hosting.

“The world is his oyster,” says former Leinster and Ireland Victor Costello told House of Rugby URC.

“It may depend on the wife and kids, and be a family decision,” he added. “ROG is smart enough to bide his time. Fundamentally, most coaching end in failure, so he has to gauge that. For sure, I think he’ll come back and coach with Munster… but he is smart enough to know when the time is right.”

“He might be a bit young to go cashing in and coaching in Japan,” says Darren Cave, “but I wouldn’t be surprised if the French national team were interested.

Jason Hennessy would expect the likes of France and England to be tracking O’Gara closely, but he wants the IRFU to keep in close contact with the La Rochelle coach.

Should a change be needed from Andy Farrell, after the World Cup or later, it would be wise to make sure his contact details are updated and correct.

Right now, with this La Rochelle team and Ronan O’Gara, no-one is jumping ship.