Ronan O’Gara will meet with La Rochelle club president Vincent Merling on Friday to determine what steps to take following the 10-week ban handed out to him this week by the French rugby union league (LNR).
The former Irish outhalf, who coached the French club to their first European Champions Cup win last season, when they beat Leinster in the final, said he was “hugely disappointed” about the sanction and that the club were supporting him.
“I’ll meet the president tomorrow and we’ll decide then,” said O’Gara. “To make it very clear, it’s live and I can’t make any comment. I’m reflecting with the potential to appeal.
“Within five days, when we know what the club and I are doing, we’ll be in a position to talk about it. It’s already wasted a lot of my time preparing for yesterday’s hearing. I don’t want to jeopardise anything.”
In a statement the LNR said the former Ireland and Munster player was suspended for “harming the best interests of rugby”.
The charge is unrelated to anything O’Gara might have recently said on the sideline to officials but involves work he conducted some weeks ago around team analysis on video.
“This is completely unrelated to that [touchline incidents],” said O’Gara, speaking at an event for Benetti menswear. “This is related to video analysis.” But until the 45-year-old speaks to Merling and others, he is unable to reveal details of the analysis to which the LNR took exception.
O’Gara did explain that the material goes back to the game between La Rochelle and Toulouse. The clubs met in October, week eight of the Top 14 league, when Toulouse won 26-17.
The only match the former Ireland outhalf has coached since completing a six-week ban for abusing a referee was against Brive on November 5th.
“It does have an impact [on coaching] and I was aware of that obviously in my last ban,” said O’Gara. “But unfortunately, this was unearthed from a Toulouse game.
“The Brive game was my first game in the clear, shall we say, and my behaviour was impeccable, but it’s gone back. It’s a pre-dated game which it [the latest ban] relates to. It’s from images I sent from the Toulouse game.”
In addition to the suspension that will keep him away until January 30th, O’Gara was also fined €15,000, with a further €5,000 suspended. As it stands, he will miss six Top 14 matches and all four of the group games when La Rochelle begin their Champions Cup defence.
It is his fourth suspension in a year. In November 2021, he was banned for two weeks for “showing disrespect to the authority of an official” during a match against Toulon.
He was further suspended for two weeks in April for “indiscipline” and “challenging the decisions of officials” in a game against Racing 92. This season began in a similar vein with O’Gara suspended in September for six weeks for “lack of respect” and “action against an official” at Lyon.
His fractious relationships with authority, however, has not stopped the English Rugby Football Union from showing interest in him. Current England coach Eddie Jones is expected to step down after next year’s World Cup in France and O’Gara’s name has emerged as a potential replacement, along with Scott Robertson and Steve Borthwick.
“Well, I don’t know about a shortlist, but I’ve spoken to a few people,” he said. “I suppose it’s a possibility. But I don’t know where I am in the pecking order.
“I think they [England] are a team that can win a World Cup, every World Cup cycle. When you coach rugby, they are exactly the jobs you look for because you want to test yourself at the highest level. I think they have a serious squad of players. It’s something that may be exciting.”
To this point in his career, O’Gara has coached only at club level, firstly at Racing ‘92 in France as defence coach before taking up the assistant coaching role in Crusaders in New Zealand. He is currently head coach in La Rochelle.
“To be honest with you, I’m the first year into head coach at La Rochelle and obviously winning a European Cup final, that’s the stuff of dreams. But you want to probably have a very, very good reason to leave. I don’t have that.
“I am obviously in decision mode between now and Christmas because that’s what happens with coaches. They always want to be done six months before the last year of contracts. That would be next season. I would be in my last year of my contract here, so I have to decide if I want to stick to club rugby or if there are options to go to the Test game.”
O’Gara deliberately left Ireland to add strings to his coaching bow, which has worked out well for him in a short time. Returning to Munster, where he played for his entire career over 16 years, he says would have been too uncomfortable given his closeness to the players.
“I knew it would have been a huge error to go straight into Munster. With coaching you’ve got to call it and you find out that if you really want to do a good job you can’t have friends.
“For me going into coach Keith Earls, the reality is you are putting the friendship at stake there. That’s not too interesting. If you go to Racing, they are not your friends,” said O’Gara.