Racing 92 owner and president Jacky Lorenzetti tried four times to persuade Ronan O’Gara to pass on a move to Super Rugby champions, the Crusaders, without success, the Munster and Ireland legend revealed last night, writes Tony Leen.
The Christchurch-based outfit have agreed a deal to bring O’Gara to New Zealand for the 2018 Super Rugby season. He will assume the responsibilities as new backs coach, replacing Leon MacDonald.
O’Gara last night expressed his gratitude to Racing 92 for facilitating the move by agreeing to release him from his contract in Paris, stressing that without approval from Lorenzetti, he would not have broken his contract, which runs to 2019.
“Mr Lorenzetti put no obstacles in the way. The moment I told him of the Crusaders interest, he recognised it was a fantastic opportunity, but we still had four conversations to the effect of ‘are you sure you want to go?! In an odd way, there might even have been a bit of pride that a rugby institution such as the Crusaders would come to our club looking for one of our coaches,” O’Gara explained.
The Top 14 club confirmed in a statement yesterday it “did not want to deprive one of its faithful servants of a great opportunity”.
O’Gara will leave Paris with a bang, as his last official game as a coach will be on December 22 for the opening of the club’s spectacular new U Arena with a Top 14 clash against rivals Toulouse.
“I think that’s clever too from Jacky as he wants me to see what I will be leaving behind in terms of a club really going places, which it is. (But) this is something that won’t come around again in terms of a coaching opportunity, and I have to take it. I am very much an ‘in-the-now’ type of person, I get stuck into the project and involved. And I’m convinced things work themselves out for a reason.”
As part of a rugby coaching ticket, O’Gara will become only the second northern hemisphere export to New Zealand, and certainly the most-high profile (Welsh man Alistair Rogers works as a defence coach with the Blues). Crusaders chief executive Hamish Riach expressed his delight that they had finally got their man, having made initial enquiries about his talents through the likes of Dan Carter at Racing 92 and Greg Feek at the IRFU.
“Ronan is one of rugby’s international superstars. He was a brilliant player and has gone on to prove himself as an outstanding coach. The international experience and exceptional skillset that Ronan can bring to this team is fantastic,” Riach said.
“We believe (he) is the right fit for this team and we cannot wait to have him over here working with us and contributing to our success in the season ahead.”
Added O’Gara, who travels to his new posting at the end of December: “New Zealand sets the bar in world rugby, and Super Rugby is recognised as one of the toughest international rugby tournaments. So to coach in New Zealand – for the current Super Rugby champions – is an enticing prospect for any coach. It is not easy to walk away from the (Racing 92) club that gave me my first break in coaching and I will miss all of those I have been lucky enough to work with there.”
Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson said that the skills and international experience O’Gara will bring is the perfect complement to the Crusaders’ current coaching group.
French-based rugby writer Gavin Mortimer said last night that O’Gara’s loss to Racing 92 will be keenly felt.
“It’s an odd one. Ronan’s an outstanding coach who is admired and respected in France. La Parisien ran a huge piece last month about how he is integral to Racing he has become, but Jacky Lorenzetti is an honourable man and one who recognises a great opportunity,” he told 2FM’s Game On last night.
“O’Gara has had four years of unstinting loyalty to Racing. That can’t always be said of their imports. This is his reward, but Jacky will regret his departure. It will be keenly felt. He has been a bridge between the head coaches - who don’t speak much English - and so many of the squad who don’t speak much French.”
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.