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21st May 2023

Ronan O’Gara reveals Ireland ambition as more details of tunnel clash emerge

Patrick McCarry

La Rochelle

“You have got to earn that right.”

There is no real disputing it. Ronan O’Gara is going to coach Ireland some day [don’t be surprised if Johnny Sexton does, too].

Every Test nation in the world would be foolish if they were to consider their next head coach, when the time comes, and not seek out a contact for the 46-year-old. The RFU did it last year and while O’Gara batted his eyelids and said all the right things, he used that interest to get a much improved La Rochelle contract.

Whatever the French club are paying him, it is not enough. Saturday in Dublin brought La Rochelle [population 75,400] their second Champions Cup in a row.

Following La Rochelle’s 27-26 comeback win over Leinster, Chris Jones of Rugby Union Weekly asked O’Gara if he would one day like to coach country.

“Yes, of course,” O’Gara replied, “I want to coach Ireland as well but you have got to earn that right.”

Gregory AlldrittLa Rochelle head coach Ronan O’Gara, left, and captain Grégory Alldritt during the post match media conference. (Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile)

Ronan O’Gara, Johnny Sexton and Sean O’Brien get reacquainted

In time, the half-time tunnel spat between members of Leinster and La Rochelle’s players and backroom staff will come to light. It may even be laughed and joked about, and embellished, depending on the company and surroundings. Depending on whose round it is.

For now, with victory and defeat so raw, it is being taken sternly and seriously.

On Saturday night, EPCR as tournament organisers were quick on the draw with a solemn statement – ‘EPCR is aware of reports of an incident at half-time during the Heineken Champions Cup final at the Aviva Stadium and the tournament organiser will be investigating this as soon as practicable. We have no further comment at this time.’

First reports that came through placed injured Leinster captain Johnny Sexton and La Rochelle lock Will Sexton on the scene, with spiky words exchanged and players and coaches trying to funnel others into the respective changing rooms.

One day on and it has been reported in various outlets that the incident was sparked by Leinster’s contact coach, former back-row Sean O’Brien, standing sentry by the referee’s room, which was adjacent to the Leinster changing room.

Ronan O’Gara had approached referee Wayne Barnes at half-time of the 2022 Champions Cup final, sharing some of his observations, and O’Brien was said to have been standing by to prevent a repeat. Barbs were exchanged, from both sides, and a molehill became a mountain.

While we await the result of that EPCR investigation, it will be fascinating to note if Johnny Sexton gets a knuckle rap for remonstrating with referee Jaco Peyper on the pitch after the game had ended.


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