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Luttiau Nicolas/INPHO Main man: Ronan O'Gara.
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Ronan O'Gara relieved as La Rochelle get up and running
The sold-out Stade Marcel Deflandre was rocking as the former Ireland out half oversaw his first home game.

La Rochelle 28

Stade Français 26

RONAN O’GARA SAID he was relieved to secure a win in his first home game as La Rochelle head coach after they were almost caught at the death in front of a capacity 16,000 crowd at Stade Marcel Deflandre.

O’Gara’s men conceded 14 points in the opening 17 minutes and then coughed up another 12 in the closing four minutes before getting out of jail when former French international Jules Plisson somehow missed an equalising conversion from just right of the posts in the last action of the game.

It was the sort of kick which O’Gara would have slotted with his eyes closed but he was just grateful that they got the win, having gone down away from home to Clermont Auvergne on the opening day of the season.

“We are delighted to get the win. It’s a game where we could have had a bonus point win and we could have had a drawn game.

“It’s crazy really but we just have too much margin in our performance, some really, really good stuff and then some absolutely abysmal stuff,” said O’Gara.

But in between that poor start and finish, La Rochelle played some scintillating rugby and it’s easy to see why the fanatical locals are expectant that the silverware he helped guide Racing 92 and the Crusaders might just be around the corner for them as well.

They didn’t panic when they fell behind but neither did they close out the game when they led by double scores at 28-14 with just over four minutes remaining and the apoplectic reaction of O’Gara and his director of rugby Jono Gibbes flew out of the coaches’ hut behind the press box and rained down on the field as they almost blew a winning hand.

It would have been a travesty had they not won for they showed massive ambition to run the ball from deep and once they got moving in the second quarter the crowd were on their feet and urging them on in an electric atmosphere.

It’s not unlike the frenzy which O’Gara experienced at Thomond Park at the height of Munster’s pomp but the finesse which he will demand is not there yet in their handling and passing, although the willingness to play a running game has clearly been instilled.

“The potential is there but we are just trying to find the consistent trigger for that and that’s what’s fascinating,” added O’Gara.

“But you have to realise the championship we are playing in too and you have to be realistic. This is a marathon championship and you need to be able to perform over the entire season.”

His men fought back from a disastrous start to lead 20-14 at the break after running in three excellent tries.

Fijian veteran Jone Qovu got the first of their tries before centre Pierre Aguillon finished off a breath-taking move from inside their own 22, with former Wallaby Brock James converting both as well as landing two penalties.

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French sevens international Arthur Retiere got La Rochelle’s third try five minutes after the restart pushed them further in the clear but they sat back and were almost caught at the death.

“We have work to do, we stopped playing and should have been caught. We need to learn from that sort of thing quickly. This is a tough championship and you don’t get away with that often,” added O’Gara.

La Rochelle: J Sinzelle; J Favre, E Roudil, P Aguillon (B Plessis-Couillaud 64-74), A Retiere ; B James (I West 56), T Kerr Barlow ; R Wardi (V Pelo 52), JC Orioli (P Bourgarit 52), U Atonio (A Joly 62); R Sazy, J Qovu (M Tanguy 40); K Gourdon (F Bosch 62), Z Kieft, L Timani (Bosch 22-33).

Stade Francais: K Hamdaoui; L Etien, L Mapoe, J Delbouis (J Danty 47), A Lapegue; J Segonds (J Plisson 56), A Coville ; Q Bethune (S Mavinga 48), R Bonfils (D Fitzpatrick 48), S Clement (C Vaotoa 26, Clement 52); M Giovanni, Y Maestri; L Godener, W Alberts (R Chapuis 3-12, 33), T Gray (H Pyle 47, Bonfils 53).

Referee: A Ruiz (FFR).

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