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O'Gara: 'We've come a long way but there's no point in being second best'

The La Rochelle head coach said his team weren’t good enough to beat Toulouse.

La Rochelle's Will Skelton.
La Rochelle's Will Skelton.

Updated May 22nd 2021, 8:34 PM

RONAN O’GARA HAILED his La Rochelle players’ character after they pushed Toulouse all the way in the Champions Cup final despite losing Levani Botia to a first-half red card, but the former Ireland out-half couldn’t hide his disappointment at missing out on the European trophy.

Toulouse were 22-17 winners of a nervy encounter at Twickenham, with La Rochelle fighting an uphill battle following the red card to Botia for his dangerous high tackle on Maxime Médard in the 28th minute.

La Rochelle managed to push their way in front at half time but Toulouse finally scored the opening try of the game with 20 minutes remaining. O’Gara’s men gave them a real fright towards the end with a try of their own and had a couple of last-gasp penalty claims, but Ugo Mola’s side clung on to secure their fifth Champions Cup title.

“It’s tough but my gut reaction says I don’t think we were very accurate or disciplined, so we made it look tight at the end,” O’Gara told Virgin Media post-match.

“A few contentious decisions maybe but you’ve got to park that, we weren’t good enough on the day. 

“I thought we were a bit hesitant in the first 40 and missed a few kicks at goal, we didn’t take our opportunities and they were hanging on even though you would admire what we did with 14 men. Botia, the poor guy who got sent off, hadn’t trained [due to an ankle injury] and the timing was just a little bit off. It plays on my mind big time.

“It does [change the game] and just to keep them to one try… but we weren’t accurate with the ball and we needed to be better. It would have been a bit easier if we got dry conditions but it’s a bit of a learning curve. Today was all about winning and you look at a five points difference with 15 against 14, it’s disappointing.”

O’Gara felt La Rochelle could have had a penalty in the last minute of the game when Toulouse out-half Romain Ntamack was caught isolated but referee Luke Pearce didn’t award them a penalty.

jono-gibbes-with-ronan-ogara O'Gara watches on at Twickenham. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I can’t wait to see the Ntamack against three, like it’s still an action part of the game. If he’s holding on the ground, it’s a penalty, maybe you can kick to touch and score from that.

“It’s not sour grapes, it’s just we weren’t accurate enough for the first 40. I’ll take my medicine but with the dark clouds, there’s also a lot of promise.”

Indeed, La Rochelle showed plenty of resilience despite the red card for Botia and it seems clear that they will European contenders again next season and beyond.

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“Damn right I’m proud of them, of course I am,” said O’Gara of his players. “We’ve come a long way but there’s no point in being second best.

“We’ve worked on the people. The player bit will come afterwards. You could see the character, it would have been easy to fold but we were the boys chomping at the bit at the end.

“There’s huge plusses. We’ve got a great Top 14 campaign but Europe is special, there’s no doubt about it. I love the competition, even today it was fantastic to be part of it.

“You wanted to have that killer instinct but there’s a lot of positives. With 14 men, it’s good but it wasn’t good enough to win.”

First published today at 19.41

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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