Ronan O'Gara is on his way back to France, and a head coaching role with Top 14 over-achievers La Rochelle.
The French club confirmed O'Gara’s appointment today, with the Munster legend scheduled to take up the position at the end of July.
It will bring to an end a productive two-year coaching stint with the Christchurch-based Crusaders, which has already yielded one Super Rugby title – and may add another in the coming weeks.
O'Gara will work alongside La Rochelle Director of Rugby Jonno Gibbes, and replaces Xavier Garbajosa, who left the club earlier this month for the head coach role at Montpellier.
La Rochelle came up short last weekend in the semi finals of the Top 14, defeated 20-6 by Toulouse, who now meet Clermont Auvergne in this weekend’s final.
O'Gara’s Crusaders have already secured home field advantage through the Super Rugby play-offs, courtesy of a thumping 66-0 victory last weekend over the Rebels.
If the Canterbury outfit progress once more to the final, O'Gara will be packing his bags after the July 6 decider, and will only have a short family holiday before returning to pre-season training at La Rochelle in the last week of July. The new Top 14 season in France kicks off on August 24.
Of course, the confirmation of his La Rochelle move snuffs out any lingering, and frankly remote, possibility that O'Gara was in the mix for the vacant backs/attack coaching role at his beloved Munster. Wallaby legend Stephen Larkham is in the frame for that position under coach Johann van Graan.
O'Gara’s La Rochelle move is an important addition to his already-impressive coaching CV, as he will have full responsibility for on-field coaching at the club. He turned down the opportunity to return to Racing 92 under Laurent Travers, who publicly courted the Irish man for a return to Paris.
However, O'Gara was eyeing a different sort of challenge this time. Ironically La Rochelle defeated Racing 19-13 in the Bouclier quarter-finals.
"This is one of the best rugby clubs in the world, and it certainly wasn’t an easy decision to move on from this team and their high-performance environment," he said.
"I’m grateful to the Crusaders for the faith they’ve shown in me as a coach, and I’m incredibly fortunate to have worked alongside a world-class playing and management group for the last two seasons. While I see this move to La Rochelle as the next step in my coaching career and an exciting opportunity for my young family, I’d like to think, long-term, this is not necessarily the end of my time with the Crusaders.
"My focus now is helping to deliver a successful 2019 campaign with the side before my family and I return to France at the end of the season."