After a one-way triptych against Bordeaux-Bègles and the qualification for the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup now in the pocket, the manager of Stade Rochelais confidently enters the final stages. His spit with Christophe Urios, his boiling character, his future, his relationship with maritime supporters… Ronan O’Gara entrusts RMC Sport.
Ronan O’Gara, you stayed relatively in the background, in the media, during the trilogy against Union-Bordeaux-Bègles. Was it because of the boiling context surrounding the derby?
No, because of my two-week suspension. There’s one line that says “don’t speak,” another that says “okay,” another that… It was kind of a weird time. Even if the sanction seems rather severe to me, I accepted the League decision, I had no right to challenge an arbitration decision during the game against Racing.
So nothing to do with the clash with Christophe Urios, during the first of the three encounters?
Nothing to see! I’m not French, I don’t know this man. That night I was focused on my team and our game. It was a big surprise to see him in front of me, but that’s the way it is, it’s okay, it’s perfect. I’m not an angel either. On the other hand, the fact of being “guilty” and having taken the same penalty as he (simple fault, editor’s note), that means everything… There are things that are unfair in the world. Imagine, that’s what I said before the Disciplinary Committee, if I had “attacked” him in his technical field, I think we would have had a different result.
“There is never malice on my part and it is very important to say it”
How do you feel about the comments we may hear about you? Some observers or opponents, such as Christophe Urios, qualify you as “intolerable” in the middle of a game…
If it’s Christophe Urios, I don’t care. His opinion doesn’t interest me. Now that is a thing of the past. I know that in my role as a coach I have a responsibility to demonstrate the values of rugby, but I am not a robot either. This may be my strength but also my weakness. It’s me, I can’t change that.
You’ve always taken on this divisive and passionate side anyway…
Yes, but there’s no point in screaming all the time. I yelled behind closed doors during the period because the players could hear me. Now it will be for nothing. There are many competitions where I am calm and quiet. With my players I am able to hold the line of respect all the time. If I’m wrong, I raise my hand and go to court. But there’s never any malice on my part and it’s very important to say it. People who watch rugby are not stupid, they can see the images and judge for themselves. Watch what happened at the end of the first leg of the European Cup, in Chaban, with this song from the supporters.
You refer to the “O’Gara” coming from the stands…
It was a powerful moment. Imagine. That’s weird to me. I never expected that. In English we say “O’Gara”, but in French: “O-GA-RAAAA!” (laughs). Wow! We laughed about it at home with the kids. A bond has developed between me and the supporters, which is cool. It should not be underestimated. We saw real supporters, a real team. That’s why I’m here, to show Stade La Rochelle in its best version. It gives me a lot of excitement for the future, I am very proud to be at the head of this team, with these supporters. We are only at the beginning of our journey together.
This “song” came a few days after a response to British media BT Sport, in response to a question about the English team, that the position of coach did not leave you indifferent. Do you see a link there?
I hope everyone wants me to stay and so do I. My comments were filmed in France in such a way that it created a rumor… It’s important to watch the interview, which was live, carefully. Of course England is a team with huge potential. Of course I hope to train a national team in the future. But I definitely didn’t say I wanted the job.
“There was never any ambiguity, and there is none in what Ronan is saying. He is under contract until 2024.” […] He just confirmed an ambition we’ve known from the beginning.” confided the general manager of Stade Rochelais Pierre Venayre in a daily interview South Westlast week…
No ambiguity. I hope to stay in La Rochelle for many years to come. I am only 45 years old. The selection may be for the next cycle or the one after.
“The trilogy against UBB? We can talk about the best three weeks since I’ve been here. If it had been a boxing match, the referee should have stopped the match by KO!”
What is your rating so far of your first season as No.1 in a staff?
For me, the season just started three weeks ago against Bordeaux… We’ll discuss it at the end of the season. But I’m having a lot of fun, I’m at ease, I’ve found my rhythm. But for me it’s not a big change either, on a daily basis. In the sense that last year I was in charge of rugby and Jono (Gibbes), manager. Out of respect for Jono, I had to wait to find out if he spoke or not. This season it is me who sets the pace, environment and attitude of everyone. Somehow it’s easier. If I like it? Yes!
Before the trilogy beat UBB 3-0, you said you couldn’t †rate the level from your team. And now ?
We can talk about the best three weeks since I’ve been here. If it had been a boxing match, the referee would have stopped the match by KO! Because there, in the first race and in the first lap of the 16th stage, we were too strong. On the return, in Deflandre, it was a small game because we really did it at home with a lot of serenity. Now we resume the championship in a good position.
La Rochelle is 3rd for the welcome from Perpignan, this Saturday, and the journey to Toulouse, the following Saturday…
I notice that we are much more confident and in a very positive frame of mind. It was super important for my team to show things – which I have seen many times in training – in a difficult environment. This was the case in Bordeaux, under brilliant conditions. We played our game and I like it a lot. Everyone thinks we have something to do against Toulouse, but it’s not interesting to think that way. Even if you win in Toulouse, there is still a championship after that. There are little battles everywhere now.