Brice Dulin credits Ronan O'Gara with key role in career renaissance

Also, Simon Zebo's 50th outing for Racing 92 ended in a hard-fought Frida night victory at Montpellier.
Brice Dulin credits Ronan O'Gara with key role in career renaissance

France’s Brice Dulin scores a try in the Autumn Nation Cup final against England. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland

Ronan O'Gara has played a key role in the renaissance of France full-back Brice Dulin at La Rochelle, Dulin says.

The 30-year-old was out of the international reckoning when he moved from Racing 92 to La Rochelle last summer. His father had recently died and he had suffered a dip in form compounded by a series of injuries.

Now, he is arguably the Top 14's signing of the year and - with Thomas Ramos injured and Anthony Bouthier out of form - he is a strong contender for a starting berth in France's Six Nations opener against Italy in Rome next weekend, following two player-of-the-match performances in two Autumn Nations Cup outings.

There is little doubt the move to the Atlantic coast from the capital was the remaking of the player:

"For some time, I had felt the need to leave Paris and the first confinement reinforced this desire," he told Midi Olympique. "When I take the car to train, I walk along the ocean, I stop for five minutes, I walk on the beach and it makes me feel good. I am happy."

He knew O'Gara before he switched to La Rochelle. They were together at Racing 92 for four seasons. "When I arrived at Racing in 2013, I knew the player, not the coach. I knew the guy who had tormented France, whether in the Six Nations or in the European Cup."

"Ronan knows how to push me to get the best out of me and we know how to lock ourselves in an office to burst the abscess, when the need arises. It's healthy and I like it."

But he said the Rochelais' head coach had mellowed since leaving Racing for a stint in New Zealand. "He's not as hard as he was in Racing. He's getting older, actually. But he has maintained a frankness that I like so much."

Dulin revealed one player escaped the full force of O'Gara's tongue when he was at the Paris club.

Dan Carter was spared the worst of the swearing from the Munster man during his two-and-a-half seasons in Paris. "But he would sometimes say to him, 'A player like you shouldn't miss tackles, Dan! Get back to work!' There was no special treatment."

O'Gara's La Rochelle learned Friday that they would not be not in Top 14 action this weekend. Their home match against Toulouse at Marcel Deflandre scheduled for Sunday night has been postponed to a later date because of a number of positive Covid-19 tests among the visitors' squad.

Meanwhile Simon Zebo's 50th outing for Racing 92 ended in a hard-fought victory at Montpellier as the Paris side came from behind to extend the hosts losing streak to nine matches.

The visitors moved, temporarily at least, into third place in the Top 14, while the hosts remain in the survival play-off place, level on points with Bayonne.

But they left it late - taking the lead for the first and only time when replacement fly-half Antoine Gibert slotted a 78th-minute penalty. Racing have now picked up 19 of their total of 46 points courtesy of scores in the final five minutes.

Zebo shook off one heavy tackle to be an ever-present threat with ball in hand and solid in defence. He supplied the crucial final pass for Olivier Klemenczak to score Racing's second try and keep them in the game on the hour, and kicked the ball out on the hooter to make certain of the 22-24 win.

Former Munster colleague Donnacha Ryan played an hour of a hard-fought game on the south coast of France.

It was far from a command performance from last season's losing Champions Cup finalists - they lost eight lineouts on their own throw and conceded too many penalties to make the game more difficult than it needed to be. They were unable to take advantage when the hosts were reduced to 14 players when Gabriel Ngandebe was sent to the sin-bin after 65 minutes.

Montpellier's interim head coach Philippe Saint-Andre is still looking for his first win, after replacing the sacked Xavier Garbajosa after the opening match of 2021.

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