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'I will not change my behaviour this week': The vow La Rochelle boss Ronan O'Gara has made ahead of European decider

By Sam Smith
(Photo by Getty Images)

La Rochelle boss Ronan O’Gara has vowed to treat this week like any other at the French club even though it will culminate on Saturday in their first-ever Heineken Champions Cup final appearance. The two-time tournament winner as a player with Munster is hoping to win the competition again 13 years after he put Toulouse to the sword in the 2008 final in Cardiff. 

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That success completed Munster’s second title in three seasons and O’Gara is now looking to get the better of Toulouse once more and prevent a club currently inspired by Antoine Dupont from being crowned European champions for a record-making fifth time.  

Having earned his coaching stripes in France as an assistant at Racing, with whom he lost the 2016 final with before moving on to the title-winning Super Rugby Crusaders, O’Gara will soon assume the director of rugby role at La Rochelle after two years working as head coach for Clermont-bound Jono Gibbes. 

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Having defeated Gloucester, Sale and Leinster in recent knockout rounds, only Toulouse stand in Rochelle’s way of a breakthrough first Champions Cup. However, rather than get caught up in any of the excitement surrounding a Twickenham decider which will see ex-Saracens lock Will Skelton returning to London, O’Gara is playing it cool ahead of the trip to England.  

“It’s a normal week for me,” he insisted at a midweek media briefing. “It’s only one game, an important game of course, but I will not change my behaviour this week. I’m as usual. I had the chance to taste a lot of finals and it’s just important to focus all our energy on Saturday. We are quite experienced at the staff level, the players too. The club are not used to playing European finals, it will be the first. I hope it will not be the last.”

O’Gara played down his connection as a former winner of the trophy who is now trying to succeed as a coach against a Toulouse team short their suspended skipper Julien Marchand. “My titles are another era, this is 2006, this is 2008. These are of course memories that I will keep in mind for the rest of my life… but our goal as the staff is for the team to perform well on Saturday. If that is the case, we have a great opportunity to do something in this final. That’s why I love rugby – everything is played on Saturday for 80 minutes!

“I feel that every week there is progress in the group. When the players are at the training centre, they are hungry and these are very important ingredients in the sport. We identified some weaknesses in Toulouse’s game and also in our game. We have enough weapons and it is a great pleasure for me to coach this team on a daily basis. I am very proud and excited. It’s historic, the club is writing a new page in its history.”

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finn 8 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

What a difference 9 months makes! Last autumn everyone was talking about how important versatile bench players were to SA’s WC win, now we’re back to only wanting specialists? The timing of this turn is pretty odd when you consider that some of the best players on the pitch in the SA/Ireland match were Osbourne (a centre playing out of position at 15), Feinberg-Mngomezulu (a fly-half/centre playing out of position at 15), and Frawley (a utility back). Having specialists across the backline is great, but its not always necessary. Personally I think Frawley is unlikely to displace Crowley as first choice 10, but his ability to play 12 and 15 means he’s pretty much guaranteed to hold down a spot on the bench, and should get a decent amount of minutes either at the end of games or starting when there are injuries. I think Willemse is in a similar boat. Feinberg-Mngomezulu possibly could become a regular starter at 10 for the Springboks, but he might not, given he’d have to displace Libbok and Pollard. I think its best not to put all your eggs in one basket - Osbourne played so well at the weekend that he will hopefully be trusted with the 15 shirt for the autumn at least, but if things hadn’t gone well for him he could have bided his time until an opportunity opened up at centre. Similarly Feinberg-Mngomezulu is likely to get a few opportunities at 15 in the coming months due to le Roux’s age and Willemse’s injury, but given SA don’t have a single centre aged under 30 its likely that opportunities could also open up at 12 if he keeps playing there for Stormers. None of this will discount him from being given gametime at 10 - in the last RWC cycle Rassie gave a start at 10 to Frans Steyn, and even gave de Klerk minutes there off the bench - but it will give him far more opportunities for first team rugby.

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