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24th May 2023

Brian O’Driscoll believes Paul O’Connell, not Ronan O’Gara, will coach Ireland next

Patrick McCarry

“It doesn’t always work perfectly.”

Andy Farrell has signed an Ireland contract extension until August 2025, yet recent rugby developments have led to speculation on his eventual successor. Brian O’Driscoll believes Paul O’Connell is next in line.

Ronan O’Gara leading La Rochelle to their second Champions Cup trophy in the space of two seasons has only heightened the coaching stock of the Cork native. O’Gara has signed an extension with the French side but, only this season, told us that coaching in the Test arena is a massive goal.

“Signing the contract is quite easy,” said O’Gara when he made the England shortlist, “but positioning yourself in the training ground or in an England tracksuit, that’s what you have to think about.

“So you have to weigh it all up, too. I was extremely fortunate, and grateful, to win a European Cup in my first year as head coach here. There’s so many good things in this club that have just started. I’ve always said, ‘Why would you walk away from that?’ So, there’s a lot of issues in my head that are not sorted, but they’re great decisions to have.”

Following that La Rochelle win over Leinster, last weekend, O’Gara told the BBC, “Yes of course I want to coach Ireland, as well, but you have got to earn that right.”

Looking back on that final, during a segment on Off The Ball, Brian O’Driscoll gave his take on potential Farrell successors and ranked Paul O’Connell ahead of O’Gara.

Brian O'DriscollBrian O’Driscoll celebrates after his final Ireland match, in 2014, with former teammates Shane Horgan, left, and Ronan O’Gara. (Credit: Matt Browne/SPORTSFILE)

Brian O’Driscoll on next Ireland coach

In professional sport, contracts are important but no guarantee that individuals will be in roles until set dates. Andy Farrell is contract with Ireland until August 2025 but, by that time, may have led the British & Irish Lions in Australia.

Should Farrell move on from the Ireland job, after a stint with the Lions, the likes of Paul O’Connell and Ronan O’Gara will definitely be in the IRFU coaching conversations.

“I do not see a situation where ROG is going to be managing Ireland before Paulie,” Brian O’Driscoll said.

“I think that progression piece is all important to teams and definitely from an international point of view, particularly if you have had success.

“The progression of Andy from the great stuff that Joe Schmidt did, and bringing in his coaching ticket has been huge. I’m sure he would say that it’s not like he tore up the play sheet and started afresh. He took lots of the success with him.”

“I would say the likelihood is that Paulie will, if that is his appetite, go on to become the national coach after Andy,” O’Driscoll added.

“That might not be for a few years if Andy decides to stay on, who knows what’s coming down the line. But I would definitely suggest that ROG might have to hold on.

“I don’t necessarily know if those two work as as a unit. Yes, they have been teammates, but it doesn’t always work perfectly.”

O’Driscoll was keen to state that this was his opinion, as opposed to any inside information or educated guessing. O’Connell is well regarded within the top IRFU circles and, like Steve Hansen and Ian Foster in New Zealand, is doing his apprenticeship as an assistant coach.

Should O’Gara not get the nod in 2025, for example, he may well not hang around to see how his old Munster and Ireland teammate gets on as head coach.

We could yet see O’Gara in that England, on France, tracksuit yet.

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