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Saturday 28 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
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# Champions Cup
'I'd have loved if Dan Carter was playing': O'Gara restores pride for Racing, but defeat stings
The Corkman took control of the Paris club’s build-up to face Munster.

RACING 92 COACHES Laurent Travers and Laurent Labit certainly aren’t afraid to delegate or share power.

‘Les deux Laurents’ made their name as a duo in charge of Castres before taking their double act to Racing in 2013.

With their Champions Cup hopes for this season long extinguished, they could have gone through the motions and asked their team to simply stay out of harm’s way as they prepared to ramp up into the second half of the Top 14 campaign.

Instead, they handed the reins to Ronan O’Gara.

“In fairness to the two coaches, they let me kind of run the week and that was a big responsibility,” says the assistant coach after a moving return to Thomond Park ended in 22 – 10 defeat.

“I’m not washing my hands of it saying I’m an assistant coach, I have a big input there and a big role and I’m very happy with my role, I’m very proud of what I do there. I got control of this, not the week but the build-up and I must say I enjoyed it.”

It was impossible to ignore the role that Racing’s reinvigorated attitude played in a vastly improved performance from their home drubbing. Even more difficult to say it had nothing to do with O’Gara.

It was probably a stronger team, a so-called stronger team, at home for us and to get a no-show like that from them shouldn’t be happening if you want to be having some bit of consistency of performance.

“I suppose it’s more disappointing in the fact that it’s Champions Cup and it was Munster. It hit me like a ton of bricks.”

Losing in Thomond Park has never been an easy pill for O’Gara to swallow and Saturday was no different. Even with Racing long out of the running in Europe, his mind can’t help thinking what the occasion and the outcome might have been like if the reigning Top 14 champions had a reason to unleash the big guns.

“I think there were a lot of positives. They were better, but if we had a little bit more, I’d have just loved if Dan (Carter) was playing, you know.

“I’d have loved it from a really selfish point of view. There was some really serious kick space in the back-field which Munster will have to address urgently. If if it was executed, you could kill them there.

Xavier Chauveau and Dan Carter James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“That’s the other side of me. I’d have loved if we were going on both fronts, we could come here and the world’s best out-half could make a different game. But tonight we were beaten by the better team, but you could take something out of it.”

“Honesty of performance. That was all I stressed. I just said it’s 60 games and four teams have escaped here (Thomond Park) with a win. So I asked them ‘is it realistic to win?’

“A few of them said ‘yeah, maybe’ and I said: ‘from my point of view, (the goal is) that we can look each other in the eye afterwards and have a beer and get on with preparation.’

I think that’s what we can do because we dug in there. We hung there and it was easy to fall at times, but the lads didn’t fall and that’s an important trait. Character is crucial and we didn’t fall.”

If Racing can count themselves as still standing, O’Gara’s former club are positively flying. Denied a clean sweep of the pool by a last-gasp penalty in Leicester, their only loss in 13 matches, and through to the knock-out stage as second seeds. As a coach learning his trade, O’Gara can only look across the fence and marvel at Rassie Erasmus’ work.

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“I don’t know what he does, but he’s obviously really good at what he does. They have serious clarity about how they play. Everyone knows what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.

Francis Saili and Camille Chat Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“I think they are a different side with (Francis) Saili in it; he just looks awesome with ball in hand. He attracts three defenders every time.

“Obviously if Earlsy plays, they’re a different team as well. The two of them combined together could be deadly. They have a back-line now maybe they didn’t have for the last two years. They have serious strength in depth too.”

Another European adventure over, the homecoming complete and pride restored. It’s back to domestic rugby for O’Gara.

The focus shifts from Leicester and Munster to Lyon and Bayonne, and the Laurents take the wheel again.

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