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Staying away from Munster helping O'Gara become a better coach

The former Ireland out-half is straight into his role as the new La Rochelle head coach.

JUST AS HIS playing career always demanded attention, the post-playing odyssey Ronan O’Gara has embarked on over the last seven years — from Paris, Christchurch and now the Bay of Biscay — is as fascinating as it is unique. 

It would have been easy for O’Gara to remain settled in Cork in retirement and follow the path of so many of his former team-mates, learning their coaching trade within the Irish system and rising the ranks from within.

Ronan O'Gara O'Gara had two successful years with the Crusaders. Source: Martin Hunter/INPHO

But the former Ireland out-half has taken a different route — the scenic one, perhaps — up the coaching ladder, by firstly cutting his teeth in France with Racing 92 and then further proving his credentials as an exciting, innovative and ambitious coach by joining Scott Robertson’s Crusaders coaching team.

While in New Zealand, O’Gara helped the Crusaders to back-to-back Super Rugby titles and, on an individual level, developed a new perspective on the sport and life, expanded his rugby intellect, and earned a reputation as an outstanding, and sharp, tactician amongst a dressing room of All Blacks. 

It may well have been easy to stay in Christchurch beyond this season and continue to work with the Crusaders into 2020, but O’Gara was keen to broaden his horizons further and, amid speculation linking him with a return to Racing and a role with France at the World Cup,  fancied a new challenge at La Rochelle.

Days after the Crusaders lifted the Super Rugby title, O’Gara was upping sticks with his young family again and relocating to western France, where he has little time to get his feet under the table as La Rochelle’s new head coach.

Working alongside director of rugby Jono Gibbes, the former Leinster forwards coach and Ulster head coach, the 42-year-old has just three weeks to settle into the role before La Rochelle’s Top 14 opener away at Clermont on 24 August.

“It’s pretty hectic,” O’Gara, who was back in Ireland for the weekend, admits. 

“It’s exciting. They have a good attitude. It’s different obviously the fact that it’s an 11-month season. It’s important we put a good solid foundation in place and then just try and get better every month.

So far it’s good, it’s good to have a good training centre. It’s good to meet Jono Gibbes. He’s positive.

“It’ll be a pretty clear message we about how we want to play and what we put importance on.”

While O’Gara was an attractive proposition for a number of clubs and received offers from other Top 14 outfits, the Cork native was firm in his mind over his next career step. 

O’Gara doesn’t get distracted by job titles, rather the job spec, and at La Rochelle, he’ll have the chance to continue to coach the players on a daily basis, both in defence and attack having fulfilled both of those separate roles at Racing and then at the Crusaders.

Ronan O'Gara during the warm up The former Ireland out-half helped the Crusaders to back-to-back Super Rugby titles. Source: Photosport/John Davidson/INPHO

“Jono is obviously director of rugby and he has responsibility for areas and I have responsibilities for areas so,” Ireland’s all-time record points scorer continues.

“It just gives me a good opportunity to see which side of the ball I prefer coaching and also getting more and more into the attack.

“I’ve done the defence but it keeps moving on. You just need to keep adding strings to your bow in that regard. It will be good for me to be able to coach both sides of the ball and then obviously have the responsibility of the global vision.

I’m kind of doing a lot better so it gives me an opportunity to really decide what I want to essentially specialise in or not.

After two highly successful years in New Zealand, O’Gara — now in his seventh season as a coach — believes he is returning to France with a number of layers of experience on his coaching CV, but he knows he can’t just bring the same philosophy to La Rochelle and expect it to work in a completely different environment and culture. 

But that in itself is part of this journey of discovery and learning he finds himself on. The external theory is that O’Gara is biding his time abroad before returning home to take over one of the big jobs here, namely the Munster head coach role.

His name, along with Paul O’Connell, has been consistently linked with a position at his native province, but O’Gara firmly believes staying away from Thomond Park in the early years of his coaching career is helping him become a better coach.

“It can so easily happen [go back to Munster] but at the minute I don’t think it was the right move for either party,” he says. “This challenge [at La Rochelle] jumped out at me so once you get that inner feeling, I always trust my instincts in that regard and just said it seems right.

“I had a good opportunity to do something I love. I’m very young as a coach so I just think that the most important thing is you keep getting better.

Ronan O'Gara O'Gara was in Dublin today in his role as Energia ambassador. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“At the minute, I don’t want to go back [to Munster] because I feel it’s making me better by not going back there. I could easily go back in the morning and do a good job, I think, but in my mind, I’m looking at it in a different way.

“I got out of the club, you see things differently and I’m away now seven years. There will be a time when I say I’ve to put my family first but that day hasn’t arrived yet. Once I have them on the road, keep them on the road because if they go back, they’re going to be back.”

O’Gara adds he has learned more by coaching in different environments than he would have by staying in Ireland.

“Yeah, definitely, because you just get to see so many different experiences and different people and different cultures and different mindsets. I think you see yourself differently too, when you’re out of your own comfort zone.

“There are times when you don’t want to be away either, when you miss home. But there are other times when you’ve got a good family and you have a good time together as a family. If I didn’t love doing it, I wouldn’t be doing it.”

Ronan O’Gara was speaking at the launch of Energia’s new rugby communication campaign ‘The Power Behind Positive Energy’. Over the coming season, Energia’s campaign will unveil how fans’ #PositiveEnergy can have a positive impact on rugby teams across the board. 

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Ryan Bailey

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