CHRIS FOY: Ireland legend and La Rochelle head coach Ronan O’Gara has a daring vision… while noises around the Lions tour of South Africa this summer does not generate much confidence
- Ronan O’Gara reinforced his growing reputation as an enlightened thinker
- His La Rochelle team embody much of what makes the game appealing
- O’Gara is building a stellar coaching CV which will lead him back to Ireland
- Elsewhere, it is wishful thinking to believe Lions fans will travel to South Africa
Ronan O’Gara struck a chord with his post-match comments on Friday night because he spoke with logic and passion about playing rugby the way most people want it to be played.
At a time when the game is going through a feel-good phase, the former Ireland fly-half reinforced his growing reputation as an enlightened thinker.
Now head coach of La Rochelle, he was responding to his side’s vibrant performance against Gloucester, on the way to earning a place in the Heineken European Champions Cup quarter-finals.
Ronan O’Gara is making a big impression as the head coach for French side La Rochelle
He struck a chord with his comments following their Champions Cup win over Gloucester
The French side may be armed with an array of high-class players — many of them imported from the southern hemisphere — but they are also liberated by a positive outlook.
They embody much of what makes the game appealing by being daring and instinctive; always seeking to offload and run from all parts if the opportunity arises.
Asked to explain this bold approach, O’Gara revealed the importance of his stint in New Zealand. ‘I think it’s a mindset,’ he told BT Sport. ‘There’s a massive ruck focus in the northern hemisphere, then when you go to the Crusaders its KBA — keep ball alive — and that is something I am interested in myself.
‘We’re trying to get speed on the ball and keep the ball alive. There’s a risk with that, but you have to weigh up the risk and the reward. With the ball, there’s a big emphasis on identifying space.’
How refreshing to hear someone who is well-versed in the more earthy aspects of the game in these parts emphasising the benefits of going for broke.
But how sad it was to realise that he had to travel to the other side of the world for his own enlightenment.
If that is what it takes, once the Covid crisis passes, young British and Irish coaches should be dispatched to immerse themselves in Kiwi rugby, to broaden horizons.
O’Gara is forming a formidable coaching CV and other teams will be interested in him
O’Gara is building a stellar coaching CV which will surely lead him back to Munster or the Ireland set-up and, ultimately, to a coaching role with the Lions, and others need to follow his path of discovery.
Northern hemisphere coaches should heed the risk-versus-reward equation outlined by O’Gara as a means of extending the current trend for positivity in possession.
For many years, Brian Ashton was English rugby’s great visionary figure and the essence of his message was that players should seek space, not contact.
O’Gara is now echoing that message, so here’s to KBA as a blueprint with popular appeal.
Lions tour noises don’t bring much promise
The latest noises regarding the Lions tour do not generate much confidence.
Jason Leonard, the Lions chairman, said that they ‘hoped’ British and Irish supporters would be cleared to make the trip to South Africa, but sadly this seems like wishful thinking, amid ongoing fears about transmission of a more potent Covid variant.
In reality, the likely scenario is that the Lions will be forced to reluctantly accept a strict ‘bubble’ arrangement which is not really a tour in the truest sense.
At best, there may be some local fans present, but that will just have to suffice, in the unprecedented circumstances.
There is said be hope that British and Irish supporters would be cleared for the Lions tour
Champions Cup concept goes down well
The Champions Cup round of 16 concept was well received — so much so that organisers should just scrap the bloated pool stage and make it a knock-out tournament.
Qualification for Europe should be a prize for sustained excellence during the previous season, so make it the holders and the leading five finishers from each league — Premiership, Top 14 and Pro 14/16 (or whatever it is going to be called).
Of course, that won’t happen, because clubs all crave the financial stability from guaranteed fixtures, but it would create a gripping event. Failing that, perhaps the integration of South African teams will be positive.
There are some tantalising quarter-finals next weekend, but there is too much familiarity. The continent’s upper elite needs to be shaken up as, too often, the teams from Wales, Italy and Scotland do little more than make up the numbers.
Eddie Jones busy since Six Nations disappointment
Eddie Jones is not sitting around moping while he waits for the RFU to conclude their Six Nations inquest. The England coach clocked up plenty of miles over the weekend, attending four European games.
On Friday, he was at Gloucester, where director of rugby George Skivington suggested he was keeping an eye on Ruan Ackermann.
Eddie Jones has been busy attending games since England’s failure in this year’s Six Nations
The former South Africa ‘A’ player has had a decent impact in the West Country, but he cannot match the talent of Sam Simmonds, so it would be a travesty if Ackermann was called up ahead of the Chief.
Jones was in Exeter on Saturday evening, after a dash from Coventry, where he saw Paolo Odogwu deliver a striking riposte after being unused by England throughout the Six Nations.
The Wasps wing scored one try, nearly added another in fine style and also made a sterling contribution in defence. If he can hold his own against Clermont, he can hold his own in international rugby.
Harlequins not happy over Mike Brown truth
Harlequins are unhappy the true story of Mike Brown’s end-of-season exit has been laid bare in an interview with Sportsmail. The London club wanted to present a sanitised version of events, but their stalwart full-back was determined to have his say.
Quins should be less worried about window-dressing and more worried about conducting themselves properly.
Full-back Mike Brown opened up on his Harlequins exit in an exclusive Sportsmail interview
Brown spoke about a lack of loyalty and that has become a recurring lament among players. Rugby is a business, but it can still have a heart and soul.
At the very least, Brown was owed more courtesy than a four-minute meeting. Belatedly, Quins made a futile attempt to keep him.
The way he has been playing lately, they will have realised he was worth another year and he could have transitioned into a coaching or mentoring role, but now a favourite son has been lost. Brown will be a driven man for Newcastle.
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