RONAN O'GARA: Breaking dressing room bond leaves sour aftertaste

It’s not good when people who are investing trust in you feel they are out of the loop, writes Ronan O’Gara.

IF you are working and progressing in a dressing room with coaches and players, trust and loyalty are two of the key components that knit it all together. They can take time to build up, but be lost quickly. Players need to feel that the person guiding them has their back, that they will all sink or surge together. It’s a rapport that develops over time.

In my time at Racing 92, the fact I have a fair grasp of French means I am frequently the conversational link for the overseas players. They don’t want to feel they are missing out on the nuances of the native banter that goes on in dressing rooms and at training, and I know they rely on me for that speedy translation from French to English. It has helped me, too, in forging friendships and trust these past four-and-a-half years.

Therefore, it’s easy to imagine how difficult it was facing those players last Friday morning when reports emerged of a potential move for me to the Crusaders. I am enjoying my time at Racing immensely, it’s been a really challenging four seasons, but I’ve seen and learned a lot and dealt with a lot of situations and I know our players in that dressing room were very disappointed to hear the story through the media. I know how the world works, and I am not having a pop at the Examiner; it’s my paper.

However, only those who have been in what is effectively a workshop canteen know what I mean when I say that it’s a massive no-no for stories which affect them to break without the players being aware of it firstly. Certainly, it came as an absolute thunderbolt to everyone in the Racing dressing-room.

The likes of Chris Masoe, who I work with day-in day-out, knew nothing of it, and it’s hard to convince someone that there is nothing to say until there’s something to say. Up until the time you address the dressing room, and give them your reasons for moving on, then it’s not good when people who are investing trust in you feel they are out of the loop. It leaves a sour taste. I’ve been in those dressing rooms, even if I have never been the one moving on and the right way to handle it is you front up before the room. Players respect you for that. OK, we’ve heard it first.

However, it’s like ‘do I really know this person?’ when they get it through the media. As I said, whatever will unfold will unfold, but from a coach-to-player point of view, it’s been a difficult seven days.

As I’ve already confirmed, there has been contact from the Crusaders regarding next season in Super Rugby and, if something is to happen, it would be fairly imminent, given the southern hemisphere rugby calendar. Their season goes from February to August, if a team was to go all the way to the Super Rugby final.

Breaking dressing room bond leaves sour aftertaste

Whatever way it pans out, though, my future is not linked in any way to Simon Zebo’s. I would be very confident at this stage that Racing 92 remains his preferred choice for next season in the Top 14. It’s something he’s had on his career checklist for some time, whether Ronan O’Gara was there to pick him up from the airport or not.

The timing of all this speculation isn’t good from Racing’s point of view, and that has to be acknowledged here. Changing the coaching set-up midway through a season is never good, which is why we are all fascinated as to how quickly Johann van Graan can get up to speed in Munster. Laurent Travers and Laurent Labit have signed up here for the next couple of years and anything that disrupts their long-term goals is unwelcome.

Anyway, a lot of that is small potatoes in contrast to the fallout from World Rugby’s decision to award the 2023 World Cup to France. From an Irish point of view, it’s possibly more beneficial to look at our bid from the outside. We believe we are a great nation, but we fail to remember we are a very small nation. The perception of Ireland in France was that it could not hope to match the depth and breadth of the French bid. Bernard Laporte has an enormous war chest behind him. These people have buckets of money and stadia and 64 million people. The truth, I fear, is that if the likes of England or France bid for something like this, Ireland doesn’t stand a chance.

Where we evidently can compete, and with considerable substance, is on the pitch. Standing pitchside at the Aviva last Saturday, South Africa are still producing big, big men, but Ireland just suffocated them. It’s in our DNA that the post-mortem of a 38-3 victory is dominated by ‘how poor were South Africa?’. Well, Ireland were bloody good, and showed an encouraging degree of invention to augment their accuracy and precision.

How many times did Andrew Conway get ball in hand that wasn’t from kicks and chases? The relentlessness of Joe Schmidt’s side was another notable factor. In Test rugby, it takes 60 minutes to really break down a team, irrespective of how on top of them one might be. To score 21 points in the last 10 minutes is a serious indication of a happy squad, because the bench had a big impact last Saturday. A big, big impact.

When Schmidt’s Ireland kick and chase, they mean it. Contrast it to how the Springboks kicked. Ireland’s is an organised, systematic kick-chase; South Africa’s is completely inaccurate, ineffective kicking. It’s the difference between general preparation and clinical, organised, detailed, determined kick-chase.

There’s a good buzz about Irish rugby these days. The crowd for tomorrow’s Fiji test underlines that. And harsh though it is, people will latch on even more to the rugby team as a result of the Republic of Ireland’s demise this week. That’s the way the real world works.

Well I know it.


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