Racing 92 veteran Donnacha Ryan is being lined up for a reunion with former Munster team-mate Ronan O’Gara at La Rochelle next season,understands.
The 37-year-old former Munster lock has a decision to make on bidding to extend his playing career away from Racing 92 next season or respond favourably to overtures from Champions Cup finalists La Rochelle on a new career direction as a coach, according to sources in the French capital.
Ryan’s Racing 92 head into this weekend’s final series of regular-season games in the Top 14 seeking to pinch second spot off O’Gara’s men. However, the pair could be part of the same coaching ticket next season, with Ryan said to be mulling over an offer to join O’Gara’s new management team.
The indications are that Ryan is receptive to the move. He is not in Racing’s plans for next season and though a move to a Pro D2 club could happen, the La Rochelle option would see him take the first steps into a new career – and would also see him working alongside his compatriot and one of the brightest coaching talents in the game.
It is likely the Tipperary man would have a forwards/lineout role but that his responsibilities would not be limited to that area as O’Gara sets about reshaping La Rochelle’s management structure in the wake of Jonno Gibbes’ imminent departure to Clermont Auvergne.
Ironically, it is Clermont who stand in the way of La Rochelle securing a guaranteed Top 14 semi-final this weekend. Though they are joint top on 77 points with Toulouse, a defeat in Clermont could allow Racing 92 claim a top-two finish ahead of them if, as expected, they see off Brive in Paris. The advantage of a top two finish is a straight path to the semi-finals of the Bouclier, and importantly a weekend off next week.
Ten teams still have something to play for as the regular season goes to the wire - but the final round of matches will kick off in empty stadiums again less than two weeks after fans were allowed to return for the first time since October.
Despite pleas from the clubs, all seven matches will kick off at 9.05pm (French time), five minutes after the country's nightly curfew comes into force.
Canal Plus - which recently agreed a new four-year €454.4m deal to retain French Top 14 rugby to the end of the 2026/26 season - rejected their requests to move kick-off times forward to allow fans into the grounds so it can fill its regular live Saturday evening sports slot.
But the final-round fixtures could not have fallen better for new TV rights holders in Ireland and the UK, Premier Sports. Six of Saturday night's seven matches have something at stake. It has chosen fourth against first (Bordeaux v Toulouse, Premier Sports 2) and fifth against second (Clermont v La Rochelle, Freesports) for its two live games.
Three of those sides - Bordeaux, Toulouse and La Rochelle - have routes to the play-off semi-finals in Lille in their sights, as do Racing 92, who entertain Brive. Clermont, meanwhile, could drop out of post-season race to the Brennus.
A point at Clermont will be enough for O’Gara's La Rochelle to claim one of the semi-final spots awarded to sides that finish first and second in the regular season. If, however, they fail to get even a losing bonus point, and Racing 92 pick up a bonus-point win against Brive, La Rochelle will drop out of the automatic semi-final places – though they would have home advantage in the play-off match.
For Agen, coached by former Bandon boss Regis Sonnes, the season’s end at Lyon can’t come soon enough. They have already conceded 1,000 points and are one defeat away from becoming the first Top 14 side to lose all 26 games in a single campaign.