Ronan O’Gara is determined to keep his La Rochelle squad on an even keel as the clock runs down to the club’s first Heineken Champions Cup final appearance in London this Saturday.
Head coach O’Gara is not the only person within the management and playing group with big final experience, the Munster legend having won this competition twice as a player with his native province, while as an assistant coach the Corkman has helped Racing 92 to the French Top 14 title and New Zealand’s Crusaders to Super Rugby glory.
Director of rugby Jono Gibbes similarly helped Leinster to a Heineken Cup victory on Joe Schmidt’s staff while flanker Victor Vito won a World Cup with New Zealand. Yet this season’s campaign has broken new ground for Stade Rochelais and O’Gara does not want energy wasted on any big-match hype as they prepare to go toe-to-toe with their league title rivals and four-time European champions.
“It’s a bit of a normal week,” O’Gara said on Tuesday. “The title of the Champions Cup is for you, for me, it’s a match, an important match of course, but I can’t change how I behave this week. It’s just like normal.
“I had the luck of experiencing a lot of finals. It’s important to concentrate our energy at 5pm on Saturday. There are not a lot of different things. The club doesn’t have the habit of playing Champions Cup finals but this will be the first and it won’t be the last.”
He added: “I am the coach of Stade Rochelais and it’s a great pleasure to coach this group. I’m very proud, very excited. The club is trying to write a new history. The voyage has a starting point and now is the time for this club.”
For O’Gara, reaching Saturday’s kick-off in optimum condition, emotionally and physically, is all that matters as he prepares his team for the all-French affair at Twickenham. He says the two league defeats to Toulouse this season have nothing to do with this final.
“They were in the Top 14, they were different types of matches. One week is a long time in rugby. They beat us three times, once in a friendly and twice in the Championship but for me, I’ve found that we’ve progressed a lot. It’s not the same 23. It’s a different context completely but I respect the club with the best history in the Champions Cup and the best history in the Bouclier who we are up against. That’s the challenge.
“I can’t guarantee my team will win but the aim of the staff is for them to perform. If Toulouse perform better than us that’s life. But with our players, if we perform there is a big opportunity to do something. That’s why I adore rugby, it’s all on Saturday for 80 minutes.”