Dan Carter believes having Ronan O’Gara on board is invaluable as both he and Racing 92 prepare for their first European final.
The 34-year old can complete a clean sweep of the major world rugby medals this afternoon in France when Racing clash with Saracens at the splendid Grand Stade in the Parc Olympique Lyonnais.
One thing is certain, a new winner of Europe’s top prize will be unveiled in front of a capacity 59,000 crowd at a venue which only opened its doors for the first time in January. Even Carter was impressed by the €415m stadium which will host matches in Euro 2016 next month, but on the field he reckons that O’Gara’s experience of having won two and lost two finals is a big asset as his side bids to become the 11th champion of Europe.
“It’s huge. It’s a historical moment for the club, it’s a huge occasion and to be able to draw on the experience of the guys who have been in this situation before...
“Chris Masoe has won a few, ROG has won plenty as well, so it is good for the other players to feed off a few words or experiences they have been through, of having played at that level and those higher pressure matches, so it has been valuable but they are not the only ones who are leading the week but those little insights and words of wisdom go a long way.
“So it is hugely beneficial to us to have the guys who have been here and done that before,” said Carter, who has only missed one of the 24 kicks at the posts in his first season in the Champions Cup.
Despite the vast array of talent on board for both sides, today’s final is likely to be a shootout between Carter and Owen Farrell, and the All Black said he is putting today’s final on a par with anything else he has done in his glittering career.
“It’s right up there. It was a big part of the reason why I wanted to come here and play, so to reach this stage is a hugely proud moment for and, more importantly, for this team. But we haven’t won anything yet. We are up against a very good Saracens side and the hard work starts now.
“It’s been a very special 12-14 months with what has been achieved and for me I have been very lucky to have been part of a few very special teams.”
The double World Cup winner has had to manage his training since picking up a knee injury in the opening half of the quarter-final win over Toulon, when they brought the run of the first side to win three in a row to a halt.
“I have had to be pretty smart with my training obviously. I have been able to train in every single session with the team in the last few weeks but I have played enough rugby for Racing this season and through my career to know what I need to do to prepare.”
Victory today against a Saracens side beaten in the final two years ago by Toulon would represent a huge milestone in O’Gara’s fledgling coaching career, the tournament’s all-time top points scorer is taking it all in his stride.
“For me, it’s a normal week. We have great players and we know Saracens have a great team and will put up a big fight. I won two and I lost two and the role this week is to tell the players to grab the moment. This is a very special competition.”
O’Gara’s move to Paris three years ago has seen him work with a host of global stars and he believes that the half-back partnership of Carter and French scrum-half Maxime Machenaud will get them over the line.
“They haven’t played that much rugby together but there is a great link between them. They are a potent combination.
“The two of them are very different, yet very similar. Presence is huge in sport, Dan is in the latter stages, the over-the-hill stage nearly, and Max has taken his game to a new level where he has prospered for France, he has excelled for France and he got confidence from that. I have been in the club three years and his work-rate is incredible.”
Either way, one Irishman will this evening experience what it is like to win the tournament as a player and a coach but whether that is Ulster’s Mark McCall or O’Gara, remains to be seen.
O’Gara knows only too well the fine line between winning and losing at this level but who would bet against Carter, even against the undoubted quality of Farrell, coming out second best in what could well be a dour and intense encounter?
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