Ronan O'Gara: A cranky moment can set you back months as a coach

I don’t get cranky anymore. New Zealand and the Crusaders buried all that. I have learned that connecting with people is the cornerstone of good coaching.

Ronan O'Gara: A cranky moment can set you back months as a coach

I don’t get cranky anymore. New Zealand and the Crusaders buried all that. I have learned that connecting with people is the cornerstone of good coaching.

You must have a good mood in your camp. Joe Schmidt knew that. Andy Farrell knows that. But you don’t get that from reading a book.

Yes, I have bad days as a person. But one bad comment as head coach to a player can set you back months. Like, actual months.

You cannot bite, you cannot have those snaps back at people even when you really want to and feel justified in doing so. That could cost you five months of progress.

Those moments when 90% of you is saying ‘I could bury this fella right here, right now and put him in his box’.

But you’ve got to let him vent his point.

Crankiness comes from insecurity, and reaching for the dogmatic, snap solution to a discussion that may have developed into something interesting is unwise.

I know that now. I would have been a glass half-empty person at home in Ireland. I questioned things but in a cranky way.

But as a coach now, and having developed under Scott Robertson at the Crusaders, the more secure I am, the more consistent the humour tends to be.

There’s no flying off the handle. That was a valuable lesson at the Crusaders. There was a tremendous culture of validation there, of worthiness.

Spending time in the company of some rugby greats – Read, Crotty, Whitelock – validates the sense that you can communicate and connect with people.

When you are going to face a storm in this career — as I inevitably will — it’s something important and tangible to derive confidence from.

The environment I talk in now on a daily basis at La Rochelle invites challenge. Fifty brains are a lot stronger than one brain, so I always say ‘I need your input boys’.

The days of coaching dictators are gone, but the happy medium between feedback and a final decision must be clear and unambiguous.

There comes a time in the week when a coach says ‘this is what we are doing. Are you clear?’ If you leave it grey you open up the avenue for excuses.

Then you are gone. I was one of those players at times. You give a player an easy out, most will take it. Lack of definition is begging to be abused.

In rugby, defence is black and white. Attack not so much so. It’s more Option A and Option B.

You create those scenarios.

Rarely, you might have a third option. It will be a good development day for me as a coach when a player says ‘Rog, you’re making no sense whatsoever’.

Thankfully in 25 years in the game it hasn’t happened yet.

Regularly, though, I’ve had players say ‘I think we could do that a little bit differently, I think we could do that a little bit better'. You’ll always engage and encourage that.

Tim Bateman, who I mentioned in the column two weeks ago, was one such at the Crusaders. A coach in a player’s brain. In the second year at the Crusaders, I had got to the point, half joking but semi-serious, of finishing a backs meeting with ‘Tim, are you seeing what I am seeing?’. That’s not insecurity.

Rog with Tim Bateman
Rog with Tim Bateman

That’s validation and crystallising the message across the group so no one is walking out of that room unsure or confused.

If you are secure, you share ideas. The biggest driver for me is what is best for the team.

I mention this because again, at an awards night last week, I was teased out on changes in coaching. On a Monday morning, all the mini-groups come together to hatch a plan, but that’s it then.

By Monday afternoon, the plan is formed.

That’s why you have team leaders, attack and defence, to chat things through. But you get your attack set early in the week: what will work against next week’s opposition and why that’s the most important thing. It’s not worth squat saying ‘I think this might work’.

Again, the Crusaders were so good with the ‘why it will work’ – right down to the detail on the playboard with the players who need real detail in their games.

If you are good enough, you are old enough

Last September in Cork, I sat down for a quiet chat with Jack Crowley. Donal Lenihan organised the meet-up before an Irish Examiner event.

The ones who succeed always tend to have a proper attitude. Humble, pleasant, determined. Keith Earls has always stood out in that regard.

There are two other attributes you find in a lot of serious performers – a whiff of arrogance and that killer instinct.

I’ve watched Jack closely since with the unbeaten Ireland U20s. When I met him, I got the sense he was third or fourth choice ten for the 20’s.

He seemed unsure whether he’d be getting game time at all. But he seemed equally sure that if he was given that chance, he’d take it with both hands. This was a chat over coffee in the Clayton Hotel, so there was no technical discussion at all.

But his capacity to be able to express himself and where he wanted to go was impressive, just as his line of questioning was.

Watching him again last week at Musgrave Park against Wales raised the obvious question for me: is he ready now to step up with Munster?

If you are good enough, you are old enough.

I don’t see a downside but just think how much his development would be accelerated if Munster gave him a shot in some PRO14 games – especially if he has Murray inside him and Farrell and Scannell outside.

If you have it, you perform better with better players. His goal kicking technique looks really good and Munster must build from within.

Europe is done for this season and there’s no relegation from the PRO14.

There’s no point throwing him in next year with a Damien de Allende when he can barely breathe, but if he gets three months with the senior squad now, it could fast-track his progress. He’s a back, he is strong, fast, and possesses a good kicking game.

In my view, Jack is ready to go.

And what’s the worst that can happen? If he is further away than he appears, it will be evident in training very quickly.

Conway and company a sign of bright days to come

It’s adding up now. Andrew Conway came into the Leinster set-up as one of the brightest stars to emerge from their vaunted schools system.

He was, in the eyes of many, the best schoolboy of his time.

There was uproar when he decided he was leaving for Munster. That one hurt for Leinster, and now we are seeing the full breadth of his talent, it is easy to see why.

Leinster realised he was really good but weren’t finding the key to him. Now, at the highest level, he is making wing play look easy when it was never more difficult.

Whether it be metres with the ball, finishes or especially his high ball takes, he is operating at a very high level.

By the way, last Saturday was his 19th win in 20 games for Ireland. Every time he walks out with that jersey on, he is thinking ‘I am winning today’. What a great starting point.

One other note from the Six Nations victory over Wales. Had Hadleigh Parkes grounded the ball for that try (to make it 19-14 Ireland) with 25 minutes remaining, the outcome was far from clear.

Strange thing to say perhaps, but what I am underlining is that the margins were never so wafer-thin in top level test rugby as they are now.

Once Wales lost Dan Biggar, they lost the game. Wayne Pivac came to Dublin without Gareth Anscombe, without Rhys Patchell, and then lost Biggar. With the best will towards Jarrod Evans, operating with a fourth choice ten just doesn’t work.

Also, that red defensive wall you came to associate with the side under Shaun Edwards was conspicuous by its absence.

Ireland maxed almost every opportunity which good defences don’t let you do. It was, in soccer terms, like a team playing on the counterattack with devastating efficiency.

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Farrell’s plan is still in the making but Ireland were more threatening by employing the full width of the Aviva Stadium pitch and their back three on the ball more often.

It’s not CJ Stander and one-out runners all day. And that stresses the opposition defence a whole lot more.

A tough break for Rattez

A coaching first for me this week — and not a pleasant one.

Losing a key player to injury is a blow at any time, but the timing of Vincent Rattez’ broken leg for France last weekend was especially cruel.

Vincent has had a blinding spell with La Rochelle and carried form into France and the Six Nations.

It will only hit us when you are ready for the lads to come back from the national squad with a bounce, hence giving everyone in the club a lift.

Now he will be hobbling in on crutches.

He had an operation on Wednesday and will probably be sidelined ‘til May. A big loss but as Scott Robertson would say ‘an opportunity for the next man’.

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