Noel Mannion: Connacht job could be the one for Ronan O’Gara

Ronan O’Gara won’t get a better chance to get into Irish provincial coaching in the next few years, according to former Connacht and Ireland stalwart, Noel Mannion.

Mannion thinks that Pat Lam’s departure from Connacht at the end of the season has opened the door for O’Gara to get his first taste as a head coach in his homeland, and with the jobs at Munster, Leinster, Ulster, and Ireland seemingly wrapped up for the next few years, Mannion has called on O’Gara to try for the job. Currently in his third year as assistant coach with Racing 92, O’Gara has made no secret of his ambition to coach in Ireland one day.

“If you look at the jobs around the other provinces, they are all sealed up at this stage. It will be interesting to see if Ronan O’Gara would be interested in cutting his teeth here,” said Mannion.

“Rassie Erasmus will be in Munster for another two or three years; Les Kiss is going no where by the looks of things; Leo is the same way in Dublin, and Joe Schmidt is there until after the World Cup. There are only five prime jobs, so it might be the one that Ronan O’Gara decides to have a cut at. He could spend a couple of years here then see if the Munster job becomes free down the line.”

Meanwhile, former Connacht flanker Johnny O’Connor has called on the province to appoint someone with experience of the organisation as Lam’s replacement.

And Irish international O’Connor says Lam’s former assistant Dan McFarland would have been the perfect candidate for the job, only for his decision to form part of Gregor Townsend’s backroom set-up in the Scotland national team next season.

“Look within the organisation, the answer just might be there. If you are looking for continuity that’s the obvious way to go,” said O’Connor.

“Dan would be the obvious man of the job if he wanted it, but that’s the merry-go-round of coaching. He has agreed to work with Scotland, but nothing is ever set in stone.

“If Connacht felt that he was the man for the job he would not be a bad option. It was a job he may have wanted before and it never came his way. It’s a bit of a shame, Dan would have been a very good candidate, but you can’t really rule out anything. If you think how Pat left, he had two seasons to go on his contract too and he has left.”

Connacht chief executive Willie Ruane must start the search of replacing the Pro12 winning coach and he paid tribute to Lam and the improvements he brought about at the Sportsground.

Lam was appointed by Ruane’s predecessor, Tom Sears, but Ruane thanked Lam from bringing glory to the province. “I’d like to thank Pat for everything he has done for Connacht Rugby. He led the province to a first ever trophy and that will be something that will live long in the memory,” Ruane said.

The announcement of Lam’s departure brought a surprising statement from sports’ ministers Shane Ross and Patrick O’Donovan, who wished to thank Lam for bringing success to Connacht.

Minister Ross thanked Lam for his “dedication and leadership” while Minister O’Donovan thanked him “on behalf of the people of Connacht” for all his success in the west.

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