Ronan O’Gara has revealed his target of one day coaching Ireland, but insists Joe Schmidt’s current crop can bridge the gap to New Zealand and conquer the world this season.
Schmidt’s Ireland claimed an autumn clean sweep, a Six Nations Grand Slam, and an historic 2-1 series win in Australia last season in what was a year to remember. With the 2019 World Cup on the horizon, Irish eyes are turning to Japan, where O’Gara believes the men in green will push the All Blacks close.
Ireland are hugely consistent and they have a great coach while they have a lot of competition for places. Of course, they can go and win the World Cup,” O’Gara said.
“We wanted to win it when I was playing, but we weren’t good enough or consistent enough. That’s the challenge for this current group who have been really impressive.
“I think they’ll most definitely make it to a semi-final and the gap to New Zealand is bridgeable.
If New Zealand play you 10 times, they’d probably beat you more often than you beat them, but that’s not to say they can’t be beaten on any given day. Ireland has a coach who believes they can win the World Cup and maybe should win it, which is a big comment. With the belief they have from him anything is possible.
O’Gara — who made 128 Ireland appearances and is a three-time British & Irish Lion — was inducted into World Rugby’s Hall of Fame this week. Since retiring in 2013, he has impressed in assistant coaching roles with both French side Racing 92 and now New Zealand Super Rugby giants Crusaders.
His long-term goal nonetheless remains clear, with a return to Ireland the aim in the future. It is also understood O’Gara will have the option of returning to Racing as head coach, too.
Of course I’d like to coach Ireland,” O’Gara said.
“Five years into my playing career I wasn’t the best player I could be and it’s harder in coaching because there is more to learn. It’s hard to get the jobs and opportunities I’ve been given. You have to make the most of them. Someone can open a door for you, but you have to take the gap when it’s there.
“I’m not too bothered about my title, I just want to be in a group where I’m valued and I get the best out of the people around me. The great thing about rugby is the best people get the best jobs now.
“That’s a lesson Ireland have probably learned from in the past; that it’s not always best for an Irishman to coach Ireland. If you look at the man who’s coaching there at the moment, he’s the best man for the job. If you’re the best you should get it and if you’re not, you shouldn’t.”
O’Gara’s induction into World Rugby’s elite club took place in the English town after which his sport was named, but home wasn’t far from the 41-year-old’s mind.
Recalling his days with Cork Constitution U12s and his head coach Fred Casey, O’Gara added: “It’s only when you see previous inductees of the Hall of Fame that you appreciate what it means.
I was No 10 for Munster and Ireland in teams that did well and even though this is an individual award, it’s on the back of being carried by a lot of good players.
“Fred was not my first coach, but he gave me a great love for the game. That’s going back 28 years.
“I remember we went to a European U12 competition, imagine that! We had home and away jerseys made which were black and white with our numbers on the back.
“There were three stripes on there with Adidas and we had proper pitches too. Fred did all that and it’s weird to think of that now.
“There are a lot of legends on that list. The two who I played with were Keith Wood and Brian O’Driscoll who did an awful lot for the game.
“They were both great ambassadors for Irish rugby so to be up there with those two is hugely humbling.”