'I'd back myself to be a head coach, I'm not afraid of what people think or say'

Ronan O’Gara has turned down a number of head coach positions already, but says he will take a top job ‘sooner rather than later.’

RONAN O’GARA MUST be sick of being asked at this stage, but as his stock continues to rise as an exciting and world-class coach, the post-playing odyssey he has embarked on will invariably attract intrigue.

It would have been easy for O’Gara to remain settled in Cork when he called time on his playing career five years ago now, following the direction of so many of his former team-mates who have learned their trade and climbed the coaching ladder within the Irish system. 

Ronan O’Gara O'Gara was in Dublin yesterday. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

But that’s what makes O’Gara interesting. And different. He has taken an alternative coaching road — the scenic route — by cutting his teeth firstly in France with Racing 92 and now with Super Rugby champions Crusaders in New Zealand, developing a new perspective on the sport and life, expanding his rugby intellect and earning a reputation as an outstanding, and sharp, tactician amongst a dressing room of All Blacks. 

The 41-year-old will return to the quiet suburb of Fendalton in Christchurch at the end of the month ahead of his second season in the role of Crusaders backs coach, as Scott Robertson’s side begin their quest for a Super Rugby three-peat. 

It is there where O’Gara will continue to develop as a coach having honed his philosophy during those couple of years in Paris, with his enthusiasm and passion for the job palpable in the way he speaks about it as a learning experience. 

While others will see his time abroad as a stepping stone towards a return home as the next Munster head coach, or Ireland head coach, it’s clear O’Gara is in no rush, rather focusing on the here and now and getting the best out of himself in New Zealand.

“Yeah, yeah it was easy,” he says of renewing his contract for the 2019 season with the Crusaders.

“From a family point of view, it’s not because it’s so far away but we’ll all go down again. From a rugby point of view, it’s hugely fulfilling.”

So is it something you always planned on doing?

“No, because when you’re playing, you’re a competitive animal, it’s just about the next game, it’s all you care about: it’s about the next training session, how do you get better?

“At the latter end of my career, you see what’s best for the team. I kind of enjoy getting the best out of people and challenging them to get the best out of themselves. Sometimes you might not and that’s normal as well. It was something that I felt came easily to me: just trying to connect with your team-mates and make them feel good about themselves. There’s that and the technical side of it as well.

Ronan O’Gara O'Gara helped the Crusaders defend their Super Rugby title last season. Photosport / Brendon Ratnayake/INPHO Photosport / Brendon Ratnayake/INPHO / Brendon Ratnayake/INPHO

“It’s hugely rewarding and hugely interesting — that’s the beauty of coaching.”

O’Gara says it would ‘take me hours’ to explain how much he learned in his first season with the Christchurch-based franchise as Roberston’s charges defended their Super Rugby crown in stunning fashion.

And that was the appeal of getting away from Munster, and Ireland. In broadening his horizons, O’Gara has been exposed to different models, different systems, different environments, different mantras. He has embraced that learning curve, using it to transform his coaching outlook. 

“I think everyone is different, you know,” he continues.

“I think retiring is hard enough. For me to get onto what was next, it was easier to get out of that [Irish] system. It was the only system I knew and I’d been there long enough but it’s not all about that system. You need to be able to make an informed, calculated judgement and maybe see different models. That’s essentially what I’m doing.

I just think everyone is different with how they view it. That’s the beauty of rugby. There are different ways of playing and different ways of seeing it.

“From my point of view, it just leaves less questions marks in your head. It just gives you an awful lot of confidence and certainty from having the time to reflect on what you did, what you’ve seen and what you will have.”

O’Gara has used the last couple of months to reflect closer to home. He has been kept busy by media commitments with Virgin Media and various other commercial appearances, but fulfilling family time is important for the Cork native. 

In that sense, there may be a reluctance to expose himself to the added stresses associated with a head coach role, but O’Gara is firm in his mind of what he wants to do, and perhaps where he wants to go.

The former out-half — recently inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame — has already turned down a number of head coach positions, but admits he will take a top job ‘sooner rather than later.’ He’s just waiting for the right opportunity. 

“I’d be a head coach, no doubt about it,” he says.

“I’d back myself to be a head coach but I just think there’s no rush. I’m not afraid of what people think or say, I’ll make up my mind what I want to do and what I’ve always believed in and if I believe it’s the right thing to do, I’ll go for it.

Ronan O'Gara and Scott Robertson O'Gara is working under Scott Robertson at the Crusaders. Photosport / John Davidson/INPHO Photosport / John Davidson/INPHO / John Davidson/INPHO

“It’s about the enjoyment, too. I’ve said no to plenty of jobs but you have to ask yourself why are you doing it? The title doesn’t really bother me, it’s working with decent people at decent clubs.

“I’m still only six years coaching, it’s still a pretty low amount of mileage. It depends on what road you want to take — I like to be hands on, getting on the grass.

“The first few years at Racing, my second job with the Crusaders so coaching you’re going to have lots of jobs, and that’s the reality of it. It’s a case of trying to pick a good job but also knowing that it’s different from being a player, there’s a family decision with it that you’ve got to do what your family want to do as well. That comes into it big time as well.” 

For now, O’Gara is preparing to return to New Zealand. Who knows where he’ll go after that. The one certainty, however, is that he’ll be primed and ready when the right offer arrives.

- Originally published at 08.00

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