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O'Gara: 'We're seen as the little team but that’s about to change'

By Liam Heagney
Ronan O'Gara (centre) with Romain Sazy, left, and Gregory Alldritt after the Heineken Champions Cup final (Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Back-to-back Heineken Champions Cup champions La Rochelle cried foul in the aftermath of their remarkable comeback victory over Leinster in Dublin, accusing the home team of disrespecting them at the pre-game coin toss and also with regards to the post-game accommodation.

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The allegation of disrespect was raised when skipper Gregory Alldritt answered a question at the post-match media briefing in French and the matter was then referred to his director of rugby Ronan O’Gara, who was sat alongside him at the top table.

The coach not only addressed the situation that saw Leinster skipper James Ryan allegedly ignoring Alldritt at the pre-match toss carried out by referee Jaco Peyper, but he also explained that the post-match gathering for the La Rochelle players and their families was taking place outside the ground at a local grassroots club facility rather than somewhere inside Aviva Stadium.

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“I got word of it on the pitch,” said O’Gara about the Ryan incident with Alldritt. “My captain and I have a very close relationship. So bizarre action when you go for a toss. Normally you engage eyes, but no eyes were engaged so Greg was disappointed, let down.

“There was a little bit of that in terms of Leinster were obviously the home team, but in terms of accommodation for the family post-match gigs, I think we are in Lansdowne – we can’t even get a room in this place. You know, it’s disappointing on that front but we have got to accept that we are seen as the little team but that’s about to change.”

Away from those pre- and post-game shenanigans, O’Gara revelled in witnessing his team come back from 0-17 down after just 11 minutes to successfully defend their title with a 27-26 win. The victory was clinched with a 71st-minute converted try that was followed by some compelling 14-versus-14 defending on their line with Jonathan Danty following Ronan Kelleher into the sin bin, pressure that was eventually alleviated with Michael Ala’alatoa’s late red card.

Asked about his team’s courageous fightback, O’Gara beamed: “Incredibly good because we were on the ropes big time, we were being steamrolled by a very aggressive team. I knew Andrew Goodman would have a special or two up his sleeve, but I didn’t expect it after 45 seconds.

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“It was a great play they opened their batting with, 7-0, and then within six minutes it is 12-0 and within 11 minutes it is 17-0, so you are not long away from getting hosed which wasn’t the plan coming here.

“We have a very interesting culture in our team and it has changed a lot, the boys really care. It would have been easy to jump ship today but they did the opposite. It was a 23-man effort, they dug in, they showed serious resolve, and they are worthy champions.”

Worthy champions who had to hang tough in a gripping finale that featured a yellow card for La Rochelle, an avalanche of Leinster pressure, and then a pressure-relieving red card.

“Antoine (Hastoy) kicked a pressure conversion, which was a belting kick. It’s a great kick but there are still eight minutes left, it’s a long time in rugby in a one-score game and Leinster bombarded our line.

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“I can’t wait to watch the video, how we keep them out, and then it’s very unfortunate for Mike Ala’alatoa. You have got to come in at that pace to shift bodies. Unfortunately, he got his angle wrong and it’s a head collision and it’s a red card. Desperately disappointing for him because he is a good guy and he plays with aggression, but he is very, very fair.

“That was a huge moment for us but the composure of – we call them deciders – that come in, we threw one or two balls to the top of the jump at 17 metres and got our drive going again and closed out the game in that regard. That, for me, epitomises a team that believes in themselves and it’s spectacularly good what happened today for this group, 17-0. You can have data for everything, but you don’t have data for character.”

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