Ronan O’Gara looks forward to a European Cup semi-final weekend. At the home of Nottingham Forest and Brian Clough.
Not that there’s an iota among the Racing 92 players what the City Ground is and what it stands for. Or who Clough and Taylor were.
The Leicester Tigers are part of rugby’s Culture Club and we aren’t. Fact. Racing and Leicester have never even met in Europe.
We’ll fly into the English midlands tomorrow morning and if it was an Irish province playing on Sunday, lads would be desperate to get to the ground, to find their bearings, walk the pitch.
The kickers would be studying their angles, the corners, the tramlines. At least I would.
At Racing, the Argentinians and the French lads will be buzzed when they get to a soccer stadium, but it will be okay by them if we just rock up to the City Ground for the first time at hour before kick off. Different cultures.
Back through the days, you always felt a kindred spirit with Leicester. They have that culture.
A core of Welford Road stock drove England to a World Cup 13 years ago.
Johnson, Back, Corry, Moody, Healey et al, Greenwood was there for a bit, Ben Kay.
Like Munster of old, a strong work ethic underpins everything.
They’ve been rebuilding and now they’re coming strong. At the start of this season, they weren’t at the races. Now that I am outside the bubble, I think of things Geordan Murphy used say to me, good ideas about the game, and realise he was on the money about a lot more than I credited him for at the time.
If you play at Leicester, it’s an experience you will remember for the rest of your life. Much the same as Munster has been.
Subconsciously I think my old province has been a sort of reference point this week in preparing for this Champions Cup semi-final.
Last Saturday in Galway was a bitterly disappointing day.
It’s important here to look at it from the players’ perspective and believe me, the players should be very disappointed. But they are the ones who can fix it.
I’m not certain they actually realise how bad the situation is now. That can be a good thing in some ways. In other ways, it’s a negative.
After they lost in that crazy Champions Cup game to Stade Francais in Paris, I was talking to a few of them afterwards and the impression was created that ‘ah we’ll sort this out’.
Well they haven’t sorted it out.
I have seldom seen such a weak defensive performance. They talked about Connacht’s attack game — that wouldn’t have worked if Munster fellas weren’t playing tip rugby defence. There were no holes there — it was just Connacht players simply going through lads.
When the opposition want it more, you have to say ‘hold on a second lads, there is something not right’.
There is nothing wrong with the system here. It’s a bodies-on-the-line issue. Desire. It’s a strong word. When you can back it up.
And that’s the reference point for the City Ground on Sunday. We lost 14-3 to Toulouse last Sunday but with a much-changed team. Toulouse were not good, and while we defended heroically, we left huge scoring chances after us. From a killer instinct point of view, we left four points there. But from a team spirit point of view, it was really good. Good momentum for the week.
Leicester have beaten Stade Francais three times, Munster twice, and Treviso twice in Europe this season.
We believe Racing are better than those teams, and our preparation has been good. There’s been injuries, but we don’t reach for excuses.
This group wants to do something ground-breaking for Racing 92. None of our players were around when Leicester achieved success in the Heineken Cup, so the Tigers’ heritage is not on their radar.
We could turn up and perform and not get the right result. But we are travelling to deliver a performance. And we have players and a half-back partnership ready for a big game.
It’s an English team in England and Nigel Owens refereed Leicester’s quarter-final, so he will be more familiar with them.
Little things like that play on your mind, but we are in a good position of concentrating on ourselves now. And that has often been the challenge for Racing 92.
For me, the old battles with Leicester only register when the media prompts them. The Hand of Back. Welford Road penalties. In the 2002 final in Cardiff, they were better than Munster. It’s remembered for the Hand of Back, but they deserved to win. They had incredible rugby stock there at the time, a dominant force.
We’ve said this week that this 80 minutes shapes the rest of our season. Making our first final will provide the added bonus of momentum in the final straight of the Top 14. The fact that Clermont and Toulon are out of Europe and focused on the Bouclier possibly gives them an edge on us, but you approach domestic fare with an extra pep when there’s a European final to look forward to.
Aaron Mauger will, like many coaches before him, hatch a plan to nullify Dan Carter. Mauger was a fantastic footballer and he’d have played many times with Carter, and would know how his rugby brain works. Mauger has a great understanding of the game and was one of the best second receivers ever to play the game.
But Carter’s peerless for a good reason.
Here’s a little extra sport. Watch the latest BallTalk for the best sports chat and analysis:
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