Paul O'Connell and Ronan O'Gara could make adventurous new moves later this year in the formatives stages of their coaching careers, with O'Connell possibly set to join the Toulon coaching staff and O'Gara to "potentially" be co-opted onto the French coaching ticket.
O’Connell informed Stade Français players on Friday that he would be leaving the club one season into a two-year deal. Having previously coached the Munster academy and Ireland Under-20s, O’Connell joined Mike Prendergast in Paris last summer to work under former Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer and well-placed French sources believe that, as with Prendergast, O’Connell’s next destination is most likely to be Toulon.
O'Connell had previously signed terms with the Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal to join Toulon as a player, with Munster and the IRFU agreeing to release him from his contract after the 2015 World Cup. He moved to Toulon as well, but ultimately never recovered from the torn hamstring he sustained in the pool finale over France in Cardiff and announced his retirement in February 2016 at the age of 36.
The website minutesports.fr claimed: “He is determined not to leave Stade Français on bad terms, but the season has been peppered with internal conflicts which are at the core of his departure.”
Prendergast, previously the Grenoble backs coach, is also expected to move to Toulon.
Bernard Laporte, the French Federation president, is reportedly keen on co-opting both O'Connell and O'Gara onto the French coaching ticket, with Midi Olympique reporting O'Gara's short term appointment as France defence coach under Jacques Brunel will run from July until after the World Cup.
O'Gara is contracted to the Canterbury Crusaders for a second year until July, which means he could link up with France before their August warm-up games.
The French team’s current defence coach is the full-time Federation employee Jean-Marc Bédérède, and the need for some fresh input into both their defence was highlighted by the 44-8 humiliation at Twickenham.
The reported appointment of Fabien Galthié as backs coach is less certain. “We must bring skills to this staff,” said Laporte of Brunel’s largely inexperienced coaching ticket.
Speaking on Newstalk on Monday night, O’Gara admitted he’d had a wide-ranging conversation with a French-based agent last week.
“Out of the blue, there is the potential to maybe get a role for this World Cup with France is what he was saying, and I said ‘Yeah, it would interest me’, but nothing has come of it.”
O’Gara described the Midi Olympique report that he was “ready to sign” as “farcical”, adding: “You can’t be ready to sign after a conversation with an agent.”
The short-term nature of O’Gara’s possible appointment as French defence/kicking coach for the World Cup could also facilitate him remaining with the Crusaders next year, something he would be keen to do.
It would also suit Laporte's plans. He had identified Joe Schmidt and Warren Gatland as the leading candidates to guide France through to the 2023 World Cup on home soil, and with Schmidt taking an indefinite break, Laporte has apparently settled on Gatland.
Hence, he is reputedly offering the outgoing Welsh coach a lucrative four-year deal, with Gatland to have a say in his coaching assistants should he agree to take up the role.