Philippe Saint-Andre believes Ronan O’Gara will be Ireland’s head coach one day and perhaps is even the man to succeed Andy Farrell.
The former French boss, currently in charge at Montpellier, who play in Friday’s Challenge Cup final against Leicester Tigers, has watched the Munster legend’s post-playing career trajectory with interest since O’Gara’s retirement in 2013 and believes the Munster legend, who will take La Rochelle into this Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup final, ticks all the boxes to make Test rugby a part of his future.
Currently the French club’s head coach under director of rugby Jono Gibbes, O’Gara will become the main man at Stade Rochelais when the New Zealander takes over at Clermont Auvergne this summer and Saint-Andre said: “He will be the coach for Ireland, maybe the next one or else in seven or eight years.
“He was an amazing player. Then he started as an assistant coach at Racing which was a very big club. Then he moved to (Crusaders in) New Zealand, to learn about new techniques of coaching. And now in La Rochelle he is doing a great job and they have ensured he will become their number one director of rugby from next year.
“The president of La Rochelle — Vincent Merling — has been in business with La Rochelle as president for nearly 26 years so you know that when he gives him the keys of the club, it’s because he has the knowledge and he is doing so well.
“That connection is so important, as it is between the coach and the players.
“For me, Ronan has all the pedigree to be the coach of his country. From being a fantastic player, starting at a very low level in coaching, but always moving and moving and now he becomes the head man of one of the best teams in Europe.”
La Rochelle’s first European final appearance this Saturday comes at Twickenham, the stadium where O’Gara experienced Heineken Cup final defeat to Northampton in 2000, a disappointing goal-kicking performance from the Munster fly-half shaping future triumphs and one he referenced yesterday when speaking at his club’s pre-game media conference.
Asked if he had passed on his experiences of playing in finals to his squad, O’Gara said: “There is a little bit of that, I think, because for me, a good student, a good player is open to how other people have failed.
“The boys here would know how I failed in my first Champions Cup final when I was really, really poor. So, for them to know that it’s okay to fail and they have seen their coach fail many a time, that means that hopefully they can see this guy is vulnerable.
If the guys feel that they can trust me, then I’m sure that will probably open up a little bit more and make for a deeper bond between me and the player.
“That’s very important because it is a long journey we have been on, but the season has gone like that (quickly). It has felt that we have been in a good dynamic and we have been enjoying it.
“It hasn’t been kind of a coach has said this, a player has that, I like to create a collaborative atmosphere where you have to respect what your ball players want.”
A European final may well be making new ground for his club but O’Gara said there was plenty of big-match pedigree and history in La Rochelle’s dressing room, which helped his side get the better of four-time champions Leinster in the semi-final three weeks ago.
“That makes it easier for me,” the Corkman said. ”I don’t see any reason why we aren’t there. Me and the staff with Jono Gibbes, you’ve got a good staff. You’ve got (Pierre) Bourgarit, (Will) Skelton, (Kevin) Gourdon, (Victor) Vito, (Gregory) Alldritt, (Tawera) Kerr-Barlow, (Ihaia) West, (Levani) Botia, (Geoffrey) Doumayrou, (Brice) Dulin, (Raymond) Rhule, (Dillyn) Leyds — there’s threats all over the pitch.
“For me, there’s a problem if you’re not in a Champions Cup final. Yeah, you’ve got to try and mix their forces together and get them playing for each other but that’s easy.
I’m very proud of what this club has done and the opportunity it has given me but at the same time, there’s a game to play and you know I’m in it to win. I’m not in it to partake.
- French international rugby captain and head coach, PSA Academies chairman and current Montpellier head coach Philippe Saint-Andre, was talking ahead of the #TheBigRugbyRun 2021, which will take place virtually on Saturday, May 22 with the support of Rugby Players Ireland (RPI) and PSA Academies. The funds raised will go towards Tackle Your Feelings initiatives for the rugby community, a mental health and well-being programme run by Rugby Players Ireland and Zurich Ireland with the support of the Z Zurich Foundation. www.thebigrugbyrun.com