By Tony Leen
New Zealand’s Canterbury Crusaders are targeting Ronan O’Gara for a sensational move to Super Rugby next season.
The powerhouse of southern hemisphere rugby has moved to bring the Munster and Ireland legend in as assistant head coach to Scott Robertson in 2018.
Well-placed sources say O’Gara’s club, Racing 92, is braced for the Munster man’s departure in the next couple of months, with an initial two-year contract on offer from the reigning Super Rugby champions.
O’Gara, an Irish Examiner columnist, declined to comment last night. However, an IRFU source familiar with developments said O’Gara is “99% certain to take the plunge” and move with his family to New Zealand in the new year.
O’Gara’s potential departure after five years at Racing 92 would be unlikely to torpedo Simon Zebo’s likely move to the Paris club next season. Former Munster colleague Donnchadh Ryan is already at Racing though the second row is yet to don the club colours as he continues his recovery from injury.
From a career in coaching point of view, a move to the New Zealand rugby heavyweights would be a hugely significant addition to O’Gara’s cv. The Christchurch-based Crusaders have won a record eight Super rugby titles and are regarded as the premier club team in the world game.
It boasts such global luminaries as former and current All Black captains Richie McCaw and Kieran Read, plus legendary out-half Dan Carter, who is a colleague of O’Gara’s at Racing and would have been sounded out on his fellow ten by Crusaders management before they made their move. The Crusaders GM Angus Gardiner is a former team manager at the franchise and is leading the chase of O’Gara, it has been claimed.
O’Gara’s departure would be a blow to owner Jacky Lorenzetti’s ambitious project to turn Racing 92 into a major European rugby force.
The Parisians are due to open their new 30,000 indoor U Arena with a Top 14 clash with Toulouse on December 22, and O’Gara is highly regarded at the club in his role as defence coach. He has already had several offers to move elsewhere, including an opportunity to join the coaching ticket of an international set-up in Europe.
A move to New Zealand’s south island would clearly bring about some upheaval for O’Gara’s family, his wife Jessica and their five children, but in a recent Irish Examiner column, he expressed the view that he still has a significant amount of learning to do as coach in different parts of the world before he is ready to be considered for a No 1 coaching role - or a return to Ireland.
Meanwhile, New Zealand Rugby has dismissed speculation that the All Blacks could face the Australian Rugby League Kangaroos in a lucrative cross-code game in Tokyo.
Sydney’s Daily Telegraph reported that the mooted fixture could generate €30million, with each team to supposedly receive €6m or €350,000 per player.
It’s reported the All Blacks and Australian Rugby League are interested in the concept, suggesting the match could take place “two to four weeks” after the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
But in a statement yesterday NZR chief executive Steve Tew immediately put a line through the proposed match, reports the New Zealand Herald.
This article first appeared in today's Irish Examiner.