Ronan O’Gara: Ireland need to be braver than usual ‘in a shoot-out for gold’
Former Ireland outhalf believes France’s X-factor can be undone by their poor discipline
Ronan O’Gara says "What Galthié (above) is renowned for is the detail of his coaching and players coming through now crave that." Photograph: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP via Getty Images
From his vantage point in the Top 14 as the head coach of third-placed La Rochelle, Ireland’s all-time record points scorer, Ronan O’Gara, concurs with the prevailing view that this French side is the best coached and most settled in at least a decade.
O’Gara spent four seasons as part of the coaching ticket at Racing 92 up until 2017, which also coincided with Guy Novès two-year reign as head coach before Bernard Laporte replaced him with Fabien Galthié.
“I think after Novès there was a huge opportunity for whoever was going to take over. Novès led a great era at Toulouse, where they had great players and built a great environment, yet that wasn’t working at French Test level.
“What Galthié is renowned for is the detail of his coaching and players coming through now crave that. Even up to the World Cup, guys weren’t enjoying going into camp but now, judging by what Greg Aldritt says, he loves what’s going on there.
“It seems to be very professional and they’ve got a good buzz going with Galthié, Raphael Ibanez and Shaun Edwards, as well as Laurent Labit, Karim Ghezal, the lineout coach, and William Servat, who’s very good on tight five play.
“They’ve always had good players, but now they’re actually coaching their players. I don’t want to be having a go at Novès but now they have an understanding of how you actually play Test games as opposed to relying on natural ability.”
This sparked a revival in the wins over England, Italy and Wales before losing to Scotland, although O’Gara cites last Saturday as the starting point for analysing Saturday’s finale between France and Ireland in Paris.
“What a start from Wales, 10-0 up, and I was thinking ‘this is really going to test France’. I thought it was going to be a dogfight but they essentially blitzed Wales. A 17-point margin after being 10 points down is quite an achievement in the same game.
“They have a game plan and certainly in the backs they have more X-factor players than any of the other nations. [Antoine] Dupont is comfortably the best ‘9’ in the world I think. [Virimi] Vakatawa and [Semi] Radradra are on a different level playing in the ‘13’ position and [Gaël] Fickou I like a lot. We’re seeking his true colours although I’m surprise he’s been moved to the wing.”
O’Gara also liked the width Ireland used against Italy and saw the evolution of a new style. “But it’s very hard to judge. Italy were poor, there’s no doubt about that. But I thought they looked good when they put tempo and width on their game, and they’re offloading – Peter O’Mahony’s one epitomised that.
“But for that to happen there has to be a change of mindset and there is definitely a more instinctive policy about playing what you see in front of you. So I’d be pretty confident in saying that under Andy Farrell, Ireland will have a framework and then have a few different options of how to play the game.”
O’Gara describes Saturday’s game as very interesting and believes that, ultimately, Ireland have to take risks.
“Ireland have to score tries and if you know you have to score tries you have to have a Plan B, C and D up your sleeve to try to break France down and get your scores, because the reality is that a 9-3 doesn’t do anything on this occasion. It’s kind of ‘all in’ on this occasion.
“They’re in a shoot-out for gold. It’s not about getting a bronze this weekend. There’s everything to play for. If you score three tries after 75 minutes and you force a pass and they intercept and score the other way and you lose the game, I think you can live with that. There’s a huge reward in being braver than usual as long as there’s a bit of smarts with it.
The way O’Gara describes it then, this finale is liable to see two sides with the shackles off.
“This is a French team who are confident and they are playing with a lot of belief, and a lot of tempo and X-factor, but it’s a very different time in our lives from when Irish teams feared going to practice. There’ll be no one in the ground.
“I genuinely make it a 50-50 game because I think there’s vulnerabilities in both teams and it all depends on each team executes. France, most definitely, have more X-factor but I think Ireland are far more disciplined.
“For an Ireland-France game, there’s probably a lot more unknowns than in previous games. How is Hugo Keenan going to go? And the French back three is very unproven. They have a rookie centre [Arthur Vincent] with Vakatawa. Ntamack is 21.
“But what really impressed me about France last week against Wales is how good they looked when they turned it on. I haven’t seen them look like that before. And they looked trained to do it. There’s a lot of method to their so-called madness nowadays.”
As he says, it should be interesting allright.
– Ronan O’Gara will be part of Virgin Media One’s coverage of ‘Super Saturday’ which begins at 1.30pm and takes in all three final games of the 2020 Guinness Six Nations.