Head coach Ronan O’Gara is close to settling his medium-term future with a commitment to La Rochelle for the next three years.
Talks are continuing between the Munster and Ireland legend and the club’s hierarchy on an enhanced role with confirmation expected that La Rochelle’s director of rugby Jono Gibbes is on his way to ASM Clermont Auvergne to replace Franck Azema as head coach.
Gibbes’ move could be confirmed by the end of this week, a bye week as it happens for La Rochelle after the Top 14 clash with Brive fell victim to a number of Covid cases at Brive.
Approached for comment yesterday, a Clermont spokesman could not confirm former Leinster forwards coach and Ulster head coach Gibbes’ appointment but he did not deny there could be a return to the club he served as forwards coach from 2014 to 2017.
“Negotiation between Clermont and Jono, it’s one option,” the ASM spokesman told the Irish Examiner, adding: “I’m not able to say that Jono will be the coach.”
If the Gibbes move proceeds, O’Gara will oversee full rugby operations at La Rochelle but will continue his day-to-day head coaching role, it is understood.
O’Gara, 44, has not been short of alternative offers as he considers his future while guiding the club to joint-top in the Top 14 alongside Toulouse.
Soundings have come from two other French clubs and two English Premiership teams, with one national union also sounding out his interest in a senior management role — though that is not believed to be the IRFU.
However, he has declared in several columns for this newspaper that he sees the La Rochelle project as still in its infancy, with a strong relationship developing with the long-time president, Vincent Merling and chief executive Pierre Venayre.
Several high-profile commentators here have urged Munster and the IRFU to go after O’Gara, but the Cork man indicated in the Irish Examiner two weeks ago that a return to his homeland is not in his immediate plans — and may never be.
O’Gara gave several media interviews to French press yesterday in which he declared his total satisfaction with life on France’s Atlantic coast.
The club’s next game is the Champions Cup semi-final against Leinster at Stade Marcel Deflandre on Sunday week, May 2, with out half Ahaia West now given a 50-50 chance of recovering from a shoulder injury in time to play.