O’Gara’s all ready for road at La Rochelle

O’Gara’s all ready for road at La Rochelle
Ronan O’Gara helping launch Energia’s #PositiveEnergy campaign. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland.

Ronan O’Gara is still getting his bearings, and no surprise there.

Just over a week separated his last day of work in Christchurch with the Crusaders —when they beat the Jaguares to another Super Rugby title — and his new life on the Bay of Biscay, where he will act as head coach to La Rochelle. And here he was yesterday speaking at a gig in Dublin.

Sounds exhausting.

So the family has been transplanted back to France from New Zealand and some of their belongings retrieved from the old gaff in Paris, but the vagaries of the tourist season has left him using temporary digs on the nearby Île de Ré until the summer passes and the housing stock is released.

“I’m not complaining, it is what it is,” he shrugged.

O’Gara was hardly in town a week when the bags were being packed again, in this instance for a pre-season training camp in the Pyrenees, but he did manage one jaunt through the town of just under 80,000 people which will follow his and his team’s every move this season.

I’ve walked through the town once and they know who you are, which is different obviously to Paris. There is a feel of a rugby town about the place.

"So in that regard, and even just talking to the staff, the people that work in the centre, they love their rugby over there.”

La Rochelle weren’t the only suitor on the back of his work with Racing 92 and the Crusaders, but the chance to move up the ladder from assistant to head coach was an obvious attraction, and he will get to work on both the defence and attack while simultaneously doing the bigger picture stuff too.

It’s a lot to take in, and there is little enough time to do it before the season starts near the end of August, but O’Gara is a jar half-full man these days, and he knows that the players and staff will take their cue from his disposition and body language.

With that in mind, the quick turnaround is one he will embrace rather than rue.

The new gig brings other challenges besides. La Rochelle’s budget last season was €25.6m, million, so recruitment will be crucial. “A skill in itself,” he said. So too the academy.

O’Gara saw the power of the local in Munster, and at the Crusaders and La Rochelle are very much in that vein of promoting your own.

“The Top 14 is a championship of its own,” he said yesterday. “You need a lot of French players in your squad because of the regulations. My goal, my challenge, is to get the best out of them.

“Some of them are young, some of them are not so young and, depending on what habits they have, you have to make their habits better to make them better rugby players.

“That’s what I’m looking forward to working with.”

The core coaching crew is tight — just Gibbes, himself, a forwards coach, and a throwing coach — but even that he paints as a positive.

Fewer Less voices mean less mixed messages after all, and La Rochelle have been competing at the top in France and Europe in recent years, so there is plenty to work with.

“The beauty of rugby when it is played well too is that it is a simple game and you can play it in different manners. You don’t have to be robotic, or pattern-heavy. Sometimes you can play, but obviously you have to be pretty aligned the more and more you get into a season.”

There is little time to lose. La Rochelle face Clermont Auvergne in Limoges and then Agen in two friendlies before the serious business begins with an opening weekend visit to the Stade Marcel Michelin and another rendezvous with Clermont. Stade Francais, Montpellier, and Toulouse lie in wait thereafter. An interesting first month, then.

La Rochelle have worked their way up the pyramid of the Top 14 since promotion from the Pro D2 in 2014, topping the regular-season table in 2016/17, and reaching a second semi-final last season.

The club has played some superb, entertaining rugby in recent years but for what will O’Gara’s team be known?

“Hopefully work-rate, which would be a big thing I would like to bring in,” he explained.

If we could get that value in our DNA it would be good. Because you see at the weekend, even in hurling, teams working for each other.

“They find something when a lot of people think they’re dead on their feet. They found a way to get back into the game, like Tipp did [on Sunday]. So work-rate is something I would be keen to install.”

Ronan O’Gara was speaking at the launch of Energia’s new rugby communication campaign, The Power Behind Positive Energy.

Over the coming season, Energia’s campaign will unveil how fans’ #PositiveEnergy can have a positive impact on rugby teams across the board.

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