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18th Apr 2024

Ronan O’Gara fronts up over “shameful” defeat to Leinster during stark press conference

Patrick McCarry

Ronan O'Gara

When the end came, for La Rochelle, it was prolonged and brutal.

The past four seasons have seen Stade Rochelais, with Ronan O’Gara to the fore, turn a lot of good and great teams over. An ambitious and growing, but not storied, team from the West of France embarked on a mission to bring silverware to the region and become a European superpower.

They were beaten by Toulouse in their first crack at a Champions Cup final, in 2021, but rebounded superbly, beating Leinster in 2022 and 2023 to reach the summit. They came one solo Romain N’tamack wonder-try away from claiming the double, last season, but the Top 14 title remained out of touch.

Now, after a weekend shellacking at the hands of a dialled-in Leinster side, the dethroned European champs are refocusing efforts on a domestic title as a salve to fresh wounds. Ahead of this weekend’s league trip to Castres, O’Gara fronted an incredible and raw press conference. He spoke to numerous reporter but the quotes here are courtesy of Rugbyrama. Here are some of the stand-out quotes and observations from the former Munster and Ireland star:

I’m fascinated by the mentality in sport, and the mentality to win. I imagined a hundred results when I went jogging, on Saturday morning, in Dublin but I never thought of a 40-13 [result]! Maybe my expectations are too high? When you get eliminated like that as a double European champion, you lose a lot of respect. Would you agree? I didn’t take one smack but five smacks on the back of the head. You can’t recover straight away after a smack like that. 40-13… that’s not us.”

Ronan O'Gara
La Rochelle head coach Ronan O’Gara. (Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile)

“It was a dark day for the club, and for me” – Ronan O’Gara

Following the game, at Aviva Stadium, Ronan O’Gara was more circumspect in his comments. He acknowledged his side had been well beaten and could have few complaints. He stated that the plan was to ‘digest [the result] this evening, turn the page tomorrow’.

Asked if that was how it played out, the Cork native admitted, “No, not at all!

“It’s much more difficult today. I’m still digesting it but it’s getting worse and worse, day by day. I am supported by my assistants. I am completely [shook] by the defeat. Or rather the way we lost. This falls into the “shameful” category. I am very disturbed… It was a dark day for the club and for me. I have to take responsibility for it. When we play like that, we have to ask ourselves the right questions.”

O’Gara told reporters that he had tuned into a couple of Champions League quarter finals, on Tuesday and Wednesday night. The performances of PSG and Real Madrid, who both advanced to the semis, gave him pause.

“I made a huge mistake watching the two quarter-finals, in football… Looking at the state of mind of PSG, who beat Barcelona. Last night, I saw a great manager, Carlo Ancelotti (Real beat Manchester City). When I compare what he did and tht away match to what we did… I’m in a tough spot. At the same time, it’s been my story for 25 years. I told the players, ‘You have the right coach to talk about resilience’. When you fall, you have to get back up. It wasn’t us on Saturday. But maybe it was actually us? That’s the question.”

O’Gara is still clearly stung by the loss but, as he noted, he had his fair share of final heartaches before he helped Munster get over the line, in Europe, twice in three memorable seasons.

How La Rochelle bounce back will define if they push for that elusive Top 14, and can then call the season a success.

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