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Ronan O'Gara explains strategy behind La Rochelle visit to Cork

By Liam Heagney
La Rochelle coach Ronan O'Gara (Photo by Xavier Leoty/AFP via Getty Images)

Ronan O’Gara has explained the strategy behind intriguingly basing his La Rochelle team in his native Cork ahead of Saturday’s Investec Champions Cup quarter-final against Leinster in Dublin.

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Cork to Dublin is a three-hour journey by bus but the former Munster and Ireland out-half preferred to take that approach for this weekend’s game rather than have his team travel from La Rochelle to the Irish capital before the last-eight fixture.

The back-to-back title holders, who defeated Leinster in the last two finals in Marseille and Dublin, played their round-of-16 tie in Cape Town last Saturday where they squeezed past the Stormers.

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After it was confirmed later that day that they would be away to Leinster in the next round, O’Gara actioned a plan he had come up with in conjunction with John O’Flynn, the general manager at the Fota Island resort, that would see La Rochelle fly to Cork on Monday from Paris rather than head home to the west coast of France to prepare for the latest clash with Leinster.

It was in a 2021 semi-final that the clubs ignited their now fascinating rivalry, La Rochelle winning that match and the two subsequent finals games in 2022 and 2023 before the Irish broke that pattern with a pool stage win last December in France.

Fixture
Investec Champions Cup
Leinster
40 - 13
Full-time
La Rochelle
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Now the die has been cast for the fifth instalment, a build-up added by O’Gara billeting his La Rochelle team in Munster territory before they head up the road to Leinster. Speaking with the Irish Examiner, the French club’s boss explained: “The reality that people don’t understand is to go to La Rochelle from Paris by bus is six hours, by train four plus whatever.

“We need to train if we want to try and do the business at the weekend. So if we were to go back to La Rochelle on Monday, we’d get back there at three or four o’clock without having slept for two days.

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“It means you can only train Tuesday, but one training session won’t be good enough to compete against Leinster, so we said we would come straight to Cork and train Tuesday and train Thursday and try and keep it as a normal championship week for knockout rugby on a Saturday. From that regard, it’s fascinating.

“You have 27 hours from Cape Town, Johannesburg to Paris with flights, with internal flights and waiting times. For me, there was no point in adding another 12 hours of travel to the week. Just eliminate that, so we said we would go straight from Paris to Cork.

“It’s important you try and make it as enjoyable, there’s enough suffering in this game. There is wonderful staff here, good facilities, and with the season the way it is with the World Cup and Six Nations, we needed time together.

“We never tick a box. We are very privileged, we enjoy what we do. We represent Stade Rochelais, I come from Cork and I’m very proud of that. I spent the best years of my life in the Munster jersey, Ireland jersey, Lions jersey.

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“I’m back home here to prepare for a game where we have a good chance of progressing where we think we have achieved a remarkable run of victories in knockout rugby. We want that to continue, but the support has blown us away.

“It’s been really surprising and top-class just meeting all the locals from Cork. You forget that when you unfortunately get taken into your own little bubble and are full of the importance of that on the west side of France but It has been an unbelievably powerful week in terms of stirring the emotions for sure.”

Away from training, the La Rochelle players and staff have made good use of their time checking out O’Gara’s hometown. “The boys were fascinated by the live trad session, and it’s good that they are seeing Cork at its finest,” he said, name-dropping the various places they have visited on their downtime in the city.

“I have been trying for years to get over because it’s my hometown, I’ve a fondness for Cork and the boys know all about that, about trying to bring them for pre-season camps.

“But with the way we have had late seasons and gone deep into competitions, we have never had the chance because the first game of the Top 14 starts five weeks after the final of the previous campaign.

“It was always in my head to get over. Over the years I’ve gotten to know John O’Flynn and once John O’Flynn is interested in making something happen, he is brilliant and has turned this week into a most enjoyable week off the pitch with a world-class facility, food, recovery.”

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3 Comments
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Bull Shark 64 days ago

Missed the part where he’s staying over with his mum.

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