Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
The Boss

'It would be bad news' - La Rochelle hope to keep ROG despite England link

Jules Favre hailed the influence of O’Gara and Donnacha Ryan at the Top 14 club.

THE LA ROCHELLE fans made their feelings known in no uncertain terms last weekend at the Stade Marcel-Deflandre.

“O’Gara, O’Gara, O’Gara” rang out the full-hearted chant for their head coach.

The Irishman was not able to be directly involved as his team hammered Castres, with his 10-game ban kicking in, but he strolled around the pitch afterwards with his children and got a standing ovation from les Maritimes’ supporters.

Having led the club to its first-ever Champions Cup title last season, O’Gara is already a legend in their eyes. So following his ban and as he continues to be linked with the England job after next year’s World Cup or maybe even sooner if Eddie Jones is sacked, the La Rochelle faithful showed their full support. He is contracted in La Rochelle until 2024 and they hope he remains until then at least.

In the changing room, it’s the same story. The players back O’Gara all the way and hope he will stay with the club despite the links to the England job.

“Yes, for sure, because he has given us a lot,” said La Rochelle wing Jules Favre at today’s Champions Cup launch in London.

“He has made the club grow, so for sure it would be bad news for us. But for him, it is good news because he does his best to have an international team.

“It’s like me as a player: I really want to play for the French team and perform and he wants to train the best players.”

Favre said that O’Gara’s ban won’t have too big an effect on La Rochelle’s performances, with last weekend’s 53-7 win over Castres suggesting that will be the case.

“No, because you turn and he is just behind you every time!” said Favre with a laugh.

“No, during the week it is the same thing because he is allowed to be with us. The ban is just for the game. He gives all the information to our staff for the game. He is there and he talks to us a little bit.

ronan-ogara-and-donnacha-ryan-celebrate-with-the-heineken-champions-cup Billy Stickland / INPHO Ronan O'Gara with La Rochelle forwards coach Donnacha Ryan. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

“On the game day, the players have to take the lead and we have the players to do this.”

O’Gara first arrived in La Rochelle in 2019 to work as head coach under then director of rugby Jono Gibbes, but he became the top man in the summer of 2021 and led the Top 14 side to European glory at the first time of asking.

Favre speaks excitedly about the former Ireland out-half’s influence.

“He is a great coach,” said Favre. “He started with Racing in France with the defence, and he went to New Zealand [to the Crusaders] after that to improve himself as a backs coach. Now he is in his prime.

“It represents a lot because he is wedded to the Champions Cup. He brings an extra understanding of European competition that perhaps we didn’t have before.

“We realised that the Champions Cup title can unite all the people, the players, and the staff, everybody. It was a huge feeling and in the stadium in Marseille we had all the crowd in the Stade Rochelais jersey, like a yellow wall. When they gave us the trophy it was a really good moment.”

O’Gara has improved Favre on an individual level too.

“He talks to me about my performance and things I have to focus on, little things,” explained Favre. “Just before the game to focus on my performance and not to be like a [Virimi] Vakatawa or a Cheslin Kolbe, just to be a Jules Favre and that will be very good. If you do everything well, it will be a good game. 

“He helped me to be more hungry. Sometimes he says to me, ‘Talk to them, bro’, and if you say nothing they will never give you the ball. So he has made me take a place in the group and not sit back.”

jules-favre Dan Sheridan / INPHO La Rochelle wing Jules Favre. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Meanwhile, another former Munster man, Donnacha Ryan, continues to be a big influence as La Rochelle’s forwards coach.

“His French is better and better,” said Favre. “Donnacha is a good guy, I like him and especially for the ruck. He is a specialist at all those things. He puts details in our game and they will be details that will make the difference for a semi-final or a quarter-final.”

And La Rochelle have an Irish player in their squad this season too after the signing of second row Ultan Dillane from Connacht last summer.

Dillane, who was born in Paris, has impressed with his language skills.

“He speaks really good French,” said Favre. “It is crazy. He is like a Frenchman because I think he was born in Paris and he went to a French school. He is a good player. I don’t know him really but when he goes on the field he gives everything and he is a good soldier.”

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