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The O'Gara verdict: Even 'touchline bickering' impresses O'Driscoll

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Xavier Leoty/AFP via Getty Images)

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Leinster boss Leo Cullen had better watch out in Marseille on Saturday as the legendary Brian O’Driscoll has warned that the Ronan O’Gara appetite for “touchline bickering with opposition coaches” is a trait that has enhanced his popularity with La Rochelle supporters. The 45-year-old has involved himself in a number of scrapes during his first year in charge at his French club following the departure last summer of Jono Gibbes.

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Having arrived back in France in 2020 from the Crusaders to work under the New Zealander, O’Gara took over at the club eleven months ago and he hasn’t been shy about vehemently making his point in defence of his team. 

Three times this season O’Gara has been summoned to appear at Ligue Nationale de Rugby disciplinary hearings for disrespecting the authority of match officials while he was also involved in an altercation with Bordeaux boss Christophe Urios, who described O’Gara as an “insufferable” character following their early April Top 14 touchline bust-up.  

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The Breakdown | Episode 14 | Sky Sport NZ
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The Breakdown | Episode 14 | Sky Sport NZ

O’Driscoll soldiered for more than a decade in the Ireland XV with O’Gara and he has since watched his former Test teammate’s coaching career with interest these past nine years, progress that now fascinatingly pits the proud Munsterman in opposition to Leinster in this weekend’s European final, a match that will be refereed by veteran English official Wayne Barnes.  

The emergence of O’Gara as a successful coach since he finished up playing for Munster in 2013 is something that hasn’t surprised O’Driscoll and his presence in the La Rochelle camp is generating huge intrigue ahead of the Champions Cup decider versus his old foes Leinster.

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“So many tens are coaches anyway, they are coaching out on the park all the time, that is what they do,” explained O’Driscoll to RugbyPass when asked why O’Gara is succeeding as the boss at La Rochelle after serving his apprenticeship as an assistant at the Crusaders and before that at Racing, the team that Leinster defeated in the 2018 final in Bilbao prior to O’Gara’s exit to Super Rugby.  

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“They are at the hub of everything a team does because they connect between forwards and backs, they are guiding the game plan. So much responsibility is on them to navigate the team through different parts of the game, to call so many plays, so there is a huge leadership and coaching role in that itself – and the same could be said of Johnny (Sexton). 

“You look at Felipe (Contepomi) who is on the coaching ticket at Leinster, who played at ten. You are doing it the whole time and particularly when you have got the experience that Rog has and what he has gone away and learned at Racing and Crusaders and now at La Rochelle, it doesn’t surprise me greatly that he has had a lot of success. 

“You can’t guarantee that in your coaching progression but he seems to be doing all the right things, saying all the right things, getting your own supporters onside by a bit of touchline bickering with opposition coaches. Even that stuff endears you to your own and might wind up the opposition. He is a clever guy that knows what he wants from his team.”

  • BT Sport is the home of the European Rugby Champions Cup. The 2021/22 season concludes this weekend with Leinster vs Stade Rochelais live on BT Sport 2 at 4pm on Saturday, May 28. Find out more on how to watch at BT Sport bt.com/sport

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