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'It's kill or be killed': What O'Gara most likes about Euro revamp

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by PA)

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This weekend heralds the second staging of the latest Champions Cup format revamp and Ronan O’Gara, the boss of last season’s beaten finalists La Rochelle, can’t wait to get started. Pre-pandemic, the pool stages of the tournament consisted of five pools of four with eight of the 20 participating teams progressing to the quarter-finals. 

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Now, the Champions Cup is a 24-team event consisting of two pools of twelve where each team play four matches before 16 teams progress into a round of 16 knockout games.  

Last season, La Rochelle got to play just a single pool match, a 13-8 win at Edinburgh, as their other three matches were cancelled, one of them a 28-0 walkover win over Bath. That was enough to put them into a round of 16 meeting at Gloucester and further wins over Sale and Leinster qualified them for the Twickenham final where they were narrowly beaten by Toulouse. 

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Home and away matches versus Glasgow and Bath now await, starting this Sunday at home to the Warriors in France and La Rochelle come into the tournament on the back of six wins in a dozen Top 14 outings, enough for them to lie in fifth place domestically.

“It’s a good thing because you understand the importance of the Brennus Shield and the history associated with it,” said La Rochelle boss O’Gara when asked if he was a fan of the latest Champions Cup revamp.

“For us, the idea of having a Formula 1-style sprint for the Champions Cup is really exciting for the players because it changes the mindset of the players. That is to say, Sunday, we start with Glasgow and that is almost knock-out rugby already. It’s kill or be killed. We have to keep this frame of mind for the following week against Bath. After two weeks, we will know a lot, whether we are dead or alive.

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“What is good for us is that even three out of four victories could either work or not be enough. It is very good for the team that they have four games in a row because the Shield is a marathon, but the Champions Cup is another format that changes the rhythm of things.

“The first match is at home and there are certain rules for a French team playing at home. It’s an opportunity for us to start quickly and show our level. But for Glasgow, they will come here with no pressure on them and nothing to lose. They will attack. That is normal – we are in the Champions Cup. We are at the deep end. We want to show that it’s really important for us.”

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