By Daire Walsh
All Blacks centre Ryan Crotty has hailed the impact made by Ronan O’Gara in his debut season as Crusaders assistant coach.
Following a successful stint in the Top 14 with Racing 92, the Ireland and Munster legend helped to guide the Christchurch outfit towards a ninth Super League title.
O’Gara is something of an outlier when it comes to northern hemisphere coaches plying their trade in New Zealand, but Crotty believes his approach was pivotal in securing back-to-back crowns for the Crusaders.
“He’s been awesome. I really enjoyed working with him this year.
“Coming in, he obviously had a lot of success before he arrived. So I think he was a wee bit nervous. A wee bit apprehensive to start with. But what he added to the environment, and to us as a back-line, was invaluable,” Crotty remarked yesterday at the Castleknock Golf Club.
“He brought us that northern hemisphere perspective on the game. I’m kind of stuck in my ways, I like things that have worked in the past. He brought a new way of thinking and a new way of defending, being one of the leaders of the back-line back home.”
Indeed, rather than seeking to adapt to his new environment, O’Gara has largely stayed true to his own principles since arriving in New Zealand — despite Crotty’s initial resistance.
“It probably took a bit of convincing for me and I was reluctant to change. But once he did [change my perception], I just think so highly of him as a coach. Some of the changes he made, and how he was able to convince us, was a massive contribution to the success of the Crusaders last year,” Crotty said.
“He knows what he knows. He knows what works up in the northern hemisphere, and thought it would work at super rugby level. Once we had everyone buying into what we were doing, we were really effective with the techniques he was implementing. I was so impressed.
“We had our review at the end of the season and we had a real good chat. I appreciated what he added to our team and I’m really looking forward to working with him again next year.”
With a strong Crusaders representation in the All Blacks squad — nine in total, including skipper Kieran Read — O’Gara’s influence may well come to the fore against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.
While he acknowledges the club and international games are completely different beasts, Crotty feels the Cork man’s extensive deployment of line speed can be easily transferred to the New Zealand set-up.
“I think there’s strengths of everything. There’s strengths in the north hemisphere game, there’s strengths of rugby in Super Rugby. There’s part of each of those that don’t work at international level for whatever reason. I think really what he [O’Gara] brought was that real genuine line speed through set-piece, defence and through team defence.
“I think he believed in it so much from seeing it work when he was coaching at Racing and seeing it work for Ireland. It’s probably pretty good if you’re the Crusaders. You’ll know what it’s like to play against [line speed], because we’re training against it all year at our franchise. It was great the way he backed himself, the way he led and the way he coached our team,” Crotty added.