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'I just wanted to see what this whole talk about Joe was. It was fascinating'

Ronan O’Gara was left hugely impressed by Joe Schmidt and his players following a recent coaching stint with the national team.

RONAN O’GARA’S RETIREMENT towards the end of the 2013 season came hand-in-hand with Joe Schmidt’s arrival as Ireland head coach, so the former out-half had left the set up by the time the Kiwi tactician took the reins.

Ronan O'Gara O'Gara with the squad ahead of last weekend's game against USA. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Over the last four years, O’Gara, like the rest of us, has watched Schmidt mastermind back-to-back Six Nations wins from outside the bubble. We like to think we know what goes on in that environment and how Schmidt governs it but the truth is that you have to be inside those four walls to truly appreciate it.

O’Gara had also heard first hand from former team-mates of Schmidt’s methods, and his unflinching and meticulous work ethic, but it wasn’t until he spent two weeks in the thick of a national camp that he fully realised what they were talking about.

“It was brilliant, a week in Carton House and a week in the States,” he says of his time with Ireland before last week’s Test match against USA.

“I just wanted to see what this whole talk about Joe was in terms of everyone seems to have an opinion on him. I think it’s important you see him for an extended enough period of time and make a judgement on it then so it was fascinating.”

With defence coach Andy Farrell away with the Lions, Schmidt drafted O’Gara into his coaching team for the first two weeks of the summer tour, concluding with that game in New Jersey, before Leinster’s Girvan Dempsey and Munster attack coach Felix Jones take over for different stages of the Japanese leg.

And before meeting up with the squad, O’Gara admitted he didn’t know what to expect of Schmidt.

“I’d heard a lot from previous players about detail and getting his message across,” he continued. “The biggest thing that struck me was his energy, his enthusiasm, he’s just unrelenting, you know?

“I think obviously too he has a young squad who are just mad keen to learn and so happy to be where they are, it’s completely different from a club set-up, like at Racing where we’ve a fair few fellas over 30.

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Ronan O'Gara with Joe Schmidt O'Gara shares a joke with Schmidt during camp at Carton House. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“In Ireland they were all young and inexperienced, mustard-keen. Joe just has everything prepped, everything organised, ‘this is how we’re going to play’, ‘this is how you need to do it in this situation’ and the message is so simple. It’s so simple, it all adds up, what he wants to do.”

It was an environment O’Gara would have relished as a player.

The 40-year-old added: “The biggest thing was three or four times every meeting, he says ‘you all have the licence to play’. That was really encouraging because I was fearful that these guys were going to turn into robots because everything has to be prescribed.

“It was great that the video was stopped and it was ‘if there’s kick-space here you take it, Joey’, ‘if there’s kick-space here you take it’, ‘if it’s on to go, you take it’, ‘if you don’t execute right that’s a different story. If the idea is right I’ll back you’.

“They have I think the best of both worlds. They can play what is front of them but they also have their map as he calls it.”

– Ronan O’Gara was speaking today at the launch of the SoftCo Foundation at Dun Laoghaire Golf Club. First published 14.18, 14 June.

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