By Brendan O’Brien
Ronan O’Gara didn’t know quite what to expect when he linked up with Joe Schmidt and his experimental Ireland squad for the first leg of their summer tour, but the Racing 92 assistant coach certainly came away suitably impressed.
The former Munster out-half spent time with Schmidt and the side at their Carton House base in Kildare before continuing on to New Jersey for the first tour game, against the USA, in a temporary coaching capacity.
The team has since continued on to Japan while O’Gara is back home in Ireland for a spell.
“I didn’t know what to expect, to be honest with you,” he explained on Wednesday. “I’d heard a lot from previous players about detail and getting his message across. The biggest thing that struck me was his energy, his enthusiasm. He’s just unrelenting, you know?
“Obviously too he has a young squad who are just mad keen to learn and so happy to be where they are. It’s completely different from a club set-up, like at Racing where we’ve a fair few fellas over 30. In Ireland they were all young and inexperienced, mustard-keen.
“Joe just has everything prepped, everything organised. ‘This is how we’re going to play’. ‘This is how you need to do it in this situation’. And the message is so simple. It’s so simple, it all adds up, what he wants to do.”
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) June 10, 2017
O’Gara had been consistent in his praise of Schmidt from afar for some time, expressing more than once his regret that the end of his Ireland career came just before the Kiwi assumed the reins, but he was keen to get the inside track for an extended period of time.
Schmidt has built up an impressive body of work with Leinster and Ireland but if there has been one criticism since taking over the national role it is a perception that his team can be too structured and thus lack the freedom of thought to react to unfolding events on the field.
O’Gara saw quite the opposite.
“The biggest thing was three or four times every meeting he says: ‘you all have the licence to play’. That was really encouraging because I was fearful that these guys were going to turn into robots because everything has to be prescribed.
“It was great that the video was stopped and it was: ‘if there’s kick-space here you take it, Joey’. ‘If there’s kick-space here you take it’. ‘If it’s on to go, you take it’. ‘If you don’t execute right that’s a different story. If the idea is right I’ll back you’. They have the best of both worlds.
“They can play what is front of them but they also have their map, as he calls it.”
Ronan O’Gara was speaking at the launch of the SoftCo Foundation at Dun Laoghaire Golf Club.