Ronan O’Gara to call on final experience as La Rochelle take on Toulouse
Head coach: ‘I’m very proud, very excited. The club is trying to write a new history’
Ronan O’Gara and La Rochelle take on Toulouse in the Champions Cup final on Saturday. Photograph: Xavier Leoty/Getty/AFP
Ronan O’Gara played in seven finals across three different competitions with Munster, and won an AIL final with Cork Constitution. He’s also coached in one French Championship final and Champions Cup final apiece with Racing, as well as two Super Rugby finals with the Crusaders.
He knows a thing or two about finals.
As La Rochelle prepare for their first Champions Cup final against serial finalists and winners Toulouse at Twickenham this Saturday, experience has taught their assistant coach to treat this, as much as possible, like any other week.
“It’s a bit of a normal week. The title of the Champions Cup is for you, for me it’s a match, an important match of course, but I can’t change how I behave this week. It’s just like normal.
“I had the luck of experiencing a lot of finals. It’s important to concentrate our energy at 5pm on Saturday. There are not a lot of different things. The club doesn’t have the habit of playing Champions Cup finals but this will be the first and it won’t be the last,” he declared at La Rochelle’s media day on Tuesday.
Whereas La Rochelle are seeking the first significant piece of silverware in their history, as well as their unrivalled 20 French Championships, Toulouse are also contesting their seventh European final, having won four of their previous six.
That might be seen to give them an advantage.
“For them? Maybe. I can’t give an opinion on that. I am concentrating on ourselves. I don’t want to change my role. I am the coach of Stade Rochelais and it’s a great pleasure to coach this group. I’m very proud, very excited. The club is trying to write a new history. The voyage has a starting point and now is the time for this club.
“I can’t guarantee my team will win but the aim of the staff is for them to perform. If Toulouse perform better than us that’s life. But with our players if we perform there is a big opportunity to do something. That’s why I adore rugby, it’s all on Saturday for 80 minutes.”
Toulouse have also done the double over La Rochelle this season, in the process inflicting La Rochelle with their only home defeat this season but if experience has also taught O’Gara anything it is that finals, especially, are one-off games.
“They were in the Top14, they were different types of matches. One week is a long time in rugby. They beat us three times, once in a friendly and twice in the Championship but for me I’ve found that we’ve progressed a lot. It’s not the same 23. It’s a different context completely but I respect the club with the best history in the Champions Cup and the best history in the Bouclier who we are up against. That’s the challenge.”
La Rochelle’s main injury concern is Levani Botia, who hasn’t played since the semi-final win over Leinster three weeks ago due to an ankle ligament injury, and O’Gara was non-committal as to whether the brilliant Fijian centre will be fit for the final.
“It’s not decided. It’s only Tuesday, the match is Saturday. There are still some important days. He’s a very important player for this club. He’s a player who has a lot of humility who is important for the group but if he isn’t available it’s not the end of the world.”