O’Gara: Vital to sign up Heaslip and O’Connell

Paul O'Connell, right, is out of contract at the end of the season. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Ronan O’Gara admits it would be a blow to Irish rugby if new captain Paul O’Connell moved to a French club next summer.

The 128-cap fly-half warned O’Connell and vice-captain Jamie Heaslip they must have “an extremely good reason” to move to the French Top 14 at the end of the season.

Both Munster lock O’Connell and Leinster No 8 Heaslip are out of contract at the end of the campaign. Head coach Joe Schmidt has had no qualms installing the duo as the chief lieutenants of a new Ireland era.

But ex-Munster playmaker O’Gara concedes the IRFU could do with convincing both men to sign new deals to stay in their domestic system.

The Racing Metro assistant coach explained: “Probably it is important that the captain plays in Ireland.

“But then there’s only one Paul O’Connell and he will do what’s best for him, that’s the most important thing. He’s hugely tied to Munster and Ireland.

“But if he were to get a crazy offer then you never know. There’s a price for everyone and you just don’t know, clearly it’s ifs and buts right now, for Paul and Jamie.

“There’s a huge amount going for playing in Ireland, they’ve both been there their whole careers. Paul’s got a great affinity with it, and everything points towards him playing at Munster.

“But you just can’t ever be totally sure, and they are the only people who know. Players must definitely be careful of the timing if they do decide to leave.

“You want to have an extremely good reason to leave the set-up in Ireland if you’re a front line player. The bottom line is that you are incredibly well looked after in Ireland.

“You are playing for and against some of the best teams in Europe, in Munster, Ulster and Leinster. So you want to know exactly what you would achieve by leaving.”

O’Gara retired in the summer after 16 years with Munster and 13 with Ireland.

Admitting he has started “at the bottom” in his coaching transition, the 1,083-point international is keen to help young players adapt to professional rugby’s rigour.

Back in Dublin this weekend, O’Gara will sign copies of his new autobiography Unguarded, My Life in Rugby, at Eason’s bookshop on O’Connell Street at 2pm today.

Relieved by the reception of his book, O’Gara hopes it will help youngsters appreciate how hard it is to succeed in rugby.

“It’s important to thank all the people who have helped me along the way.

“But I think it’s important to highlight to young people that it’s not all been plain sailing, far from it. I hope younger guys can maybe be inspired from overcoming setbacks, and persisting.

“People see the finished article international player, they think it’s all glory days and big victories, but there’s a lot of hard work and fight. They need someone mentoring them, someone who has their genuine interests at heart.

“An agent has his interests at heart of course, and sometimes parents are too emotionally involved. That’s exactly a motivation for me now: a happy person definitely makes a better player.

“France is very different, but I had to go somewhere else: it would have been too easy to stay in the same set-up, thinking you know an awful lot. It is exciting to be starting again in a new challenge.

“It’s back to the bottom, it’s starting again and that’s exactly where I am. I’m learning from two excellent coaches in Lauren Travers and Laurent Labit.

“You have to learn how everything works, it’s all a learning curve now.”


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