Ronan O’Gara: ‘JJ Hanrahan? I think he has the capability to be really special’

THE DONAL LENIHAN INTERVIEW

Ronan O’Gara: ‘JJ Hanrahan? I think he has the capability to be really special’

Q. Do you have a different view of rugby punditry now that you’re doing some of that work yourself?

RONAN O’GARA: “I think it’s very easy, it’s how you say things. The people that were good at rugby can speak their opinions. It’s people who want to sensationalise things and who are paid to create controversy. They’re easy to identify. Yourself (Donal Lenihan), Michael Lynagh, others, can be very constructive.

"A player knows he’s not played well. You don’t have to ram it down his throat and there are constructive things you can say to him. It’s not that easy on the pitch when you’ve split-seconds. We’re all experts sitting there drinking coffee and eating Mars bars. That’s a great way to watch sports.”

Q: And you’ve been down on the touchline, close to the action again?

RONAN O’GARA: “That’s been a big change, I’ve made the transition now (from player), I hadn’t at that stage last year. After the autumn internationals, I realised it’s over, but back then you’d be thinking, you’d love to be there, you’re jealous. Now, though, you realise you had your time, you hope the new lads maximise their time.”

Q The physicality is at another level, is there any danger of losing a player, or even being killed?

RONAN O’GARA: “I don’t think so. There’s a massive focus on it but if you go back to the 2003 World Cup — and I was looking at old videos — the amount of belts lads were getting was huge. The media is on it now, but I don’t think it’s changed. Players are getting stronger, getting more weights done but everyone is doing it so there are no mismatches.

“The idea there’s no space isn’t accurate on the pitch. I don’t think the players have been as creative, those coming into the game now, compared to those coming in from 2000 on because of the emphasis on strength. Look at all the academies — who can pass comfortably from left to right, for instance?”

Q: Well Mils Muliaina couldn’t believe the emphasis on bulking up here compared to New Zealand?

RONAN O’GARA: “That’s the big difference, look at their last try against Ireland last November (2013), forwards passing left to right, right to left. Ireland should never have lost that game but New Zealand never panicked, their skills held up. Generally games are more tactical in northern hemisphere, but the biggest growth area in rugby is pass development.”

Q: If you were named Munster coach tomorrow, number one, two and three on your wish list of signings?

RONAN O’GARA: “There are too many whats and ifs and buts in that. I’m not looking back at that… that area is something that will happen in the future but to think of three players now… I’d need to give serious thought and reflection to that.”

Q: If you could pick someone from Munster or Ireland to play in France, who would you pick, and why?

RONAN O’GARA: “The way things are gone, I’d like to get my hands on JJ Hanrahan. I think a lot can be done with him, I think he has the capability — well he won’t now — but he would’ve had the capability to back up Johnny (Sexton) at the World Cup, but he hasn’t had game time. So to lose him out of the Munster system, I think is a big blow because he’s the next role model for all the eight, nine, 10-year-olds in Munster now.

“He has the capability to be really special. He needs to play but he doesn’t get that opportunity so he’s gone that way but it would be…

“The problem is in France, he’d be gone home within three weeks because he doesn’t speak the language and that’s the crucial thing as a nine or 10 there. Unless you’re a superstar, they won’t give you any breathing space and even if you’re a superstar, they’ll still kind of go at you a bit. So for there it just wouldn’t be an option to try get him to France. But I think there are good years ahead for JJ if he progresses.”

Q: What advice would you give to a young rugby player trying to make it?

RONAN O’GARA: “What is crucial is not to put all your eggs in one basket. Good parenting is crucial. You’ve got to go to school, go to university if you can. But there has to be a plan B.

“If you put your eggs in one basket the level of disappointment could be absolutely crushing to your personality, to everything. It’s different times but the more sports you can play as a young boy or girl, the better.

"If it finds you, it finds you. But if you’re going to go and have protein shakes from the age of 12 onwards, you’re looking for a huge disappointment.

“I would say you need serious guidance and skilled parenting because sometimes it’s the parents living the dream, it’s not the young fella that’s living the dream and that’s something that needs to be looked at big time.”

Q: Were you pushed into playing rugby?

RONAN O’GARA: “No, because rugby was amateur. I probably would’ve been in the centre of Old Trafford with Giggs, Beckham, Keane! I was Cork under-8 and under-10 but then I got whipped away because I was probably shining a bit much!”

Q: Were those Thomond Park days the best of all?

RONAN O’GARA: “It was probably new to us all from 2000 onwards but playing in Thomond Park was — and sometimes words don’t do it justice — just incredible. It was basically the crowd that drove Munster.

"There were certainly good players but when you performed with 20,000 people behind you, that power that can generate behind a team is incredible and you get the feeling that you cannot be beaten. That was usually what happened there.

“I think the games that spring to mind were the games like Gloucester… it was usually a cold January evening that you played an English team coming in to Thomond Park. Now that you’re finished, you enjoy it and it comes back to you.

"The match was one thing, it was probably sitting in the Clarion in Limerick listening to Gaillimh, listening to Paulie, to whoever had something to say before the English came to town, they’re the things you smile about now.

“Then you put it into practice on the pitch, with people who care really passionately about their team, their local team. If you’re part of that, you literally feel 10 feet tall.

"It was some buzz because anytime it’s the first to do something… obviously Ulster had won a

"European Cup but they’d won a bit of a Mickey Mouse European Cup without the English teams. So they won a Celtic League plus France is what I say to Andrew Trimble and Rory Best and those boys. It goes down well! I think it was a fortress and sometimes that’s overused but it was very, very hard to lose there.”

Q: But it’s more difficult for current group of Munster players based on standards of previous teams?

RONAN O’GARA: “The other side of that would be the fact in 2000 it was my fault the likes of Gaillimh and Claw and a lot of great players didn’t win (their first Heineken Cup) against Northampton. But you talk about expectation, we’d to wait from 2000 to 2006 to be considered winners and that’s a lot of expectation in the team. There was a lot of torture going on every year until you actually got over the line. So the current crew need to start winning again, I’ve no sympathy for them.”

Q: What’s changed in Racing Metro this season? Top four in France, top seed in their Champions Cup pool?

RONAN O’GARA: “A lot has changed. I’ve changed. I’m finished with rugby, I’m not a player anymore, but that takes time to adjust to. Ruby (Walsh) is an athlete and is competing. I’ve lost that unfortunately. But you see things differently. You’re composed once you settled down to it.”

Q: And you haven’t been cited for four months...!.

RONAN O’GARA: “Now I go up to the stand with the computer, it’s logical to start seeing the game properly. You can’t abuse fourth officials. What I’m doing, as Ruby said, you learn from those things and it doesn’t happen again.

"What’s changed specifically (at Racing)? The whole thing. The two Castres coaches came into Racing, they have three strength and conditioning coaches so there’s a five-man team, and there were 14 new players came in, five from Castres.

“There was little or no environment, trust, accountability — you work hard on that and I think we’re going well, but the Northampton game... if we played them five times, I don’t know if we’d beat them the other four.”

Q Different culture there?

RONAN O’GARA: “It’s the biggest thing, you’ve to live it, you’d ask ‘is this really happening?’ I was at Munster all my career, it was a special environment with special players, but there’s a lot of turnover in the Top 14, a lot of movement among the clubs.

"Guys go from Bayonne to Oyonnax or whatever, and a bracket of players do that. There’s no accountability in Racing compared to Munster (if and when you lose) because of the volume of people in Paris, but the cheques arrive every month. But now at Racing there’s a great core of players there who want to win things.

"The biggest problem for any team that wants to be competitive and win is the guys wearing numbers 30-40. If they’re in a good place, it helps because if 10 to 15 lads aren’t participating, you’re not going to get over the line.”

Q: You’ve settled into Parisian life, but it hasn’t been so easy for some other English speaking-players?

RONAN O’GARA: “Every case is an individual one. (Wales’) Dan Lydiate is a very good defensive player, but in terms of what the boss wanted, he probably wasn’t the player he felt he wanted — he wanted Dan to play but couldn’t guarantee him game time, so they came to an arrangement.

"Johnny (Sexton) is different, he wants to play for Leinster and unfortunately from my point of view he’s going back because there aren’t a lot of very good 10s out there.

“Dan Carter is coming in, which is good, but it’ll be interesting to see what shape physically and mentally he’ll be in. The club’s run by one man (Jacky Lorenzetti) and his wife, and it’s very different... it’s his dream.

"Everyone in rugby knows there’s one Dan Carter, his name is to the forefront so it’s his dream to have Dan with Racing. He’s opening a new stadium for concerts and games in Paris so to launch that, Racing will play the All Blacks on a Friday night, Dan will play a half for the All Blacks and one half for Racing Metro. And on the Saturday night after that you’ll have the Rolling Stones there. That’s just how he operates.”

Q: Tomorrow at the Aviva, England are missing Mike Brown, Ireland are without Jamie Heaslip? Who’ll suffer more?

RONAN O’GARA: “Mike Brown’s a great player, he’s been really good and it’s good to have a left-footed kicker in your back three, look at Rob Kearney. George Ford can play to the right, Brown left. Jamie (Heaslip) is a loss, he gets through an awful lot of work, but it’s a great opportunity for Jordi Murphy.”

Q: Johnny Sexton’s performance was phenomenal against France, there’s been some growth in his game last two years?

RONAN O’GARA: “Yes, but there’s a message there in terms of the injury. Because it was a head injury — but without symptoms — the smartest thing he did — and hopefully I contributed — was that he had 12 weeks to do some work, a massive opportunity to grow his game. He was involved in all the ballwork so it wasn’t a surprise to me he hit the ground running against France.

“Getting up to the speed of game time can be a bit of a myth, if you back yourself you can do it no problem. The faith Johnny has in Joe Schmidt is incredible, he’s won three Heineken Cups with him and he’s done well with Ireland with him, but he hasn’t had much time with other coaches, so that’s the one guy who makes him tick.

"Johnny is hyper-organised, and that’s what Schmidt delivers to him, and he gets great confidence from that.”

Q: The bookies can’t separate Ireland and England.

RONAN O’GARA: “I’m fascinated with the mental battle. The last time George Ford played a big final was in the Amlin last May, but had a shocker off the tee. Real pressure only arrives once or twice a season, so it’ll be interesting how he copes on Sunday.

"England going to Ireland is different to Wales, where they go on a bus. They’ve to get on a flight and travel and the Aviva is going to be very intense on Sunday. Dave Alred, the kicking guru, is with Ford, but I’m not sure how much natural kicking is left in him.

"The atmosphere is going to be intense, I think Johnny will kick well and it’s going to be hard to get 18 or 19 points out of Ireland. Ford will probably have to kick five out of six, but I think Ireland by about four points.”

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