"It's Marseille, baby!" - Ronan O'Gara's refreshing approach to pre-match preparation
"We had serenity. The boys are happy."
We are well and truly into the business end of the 2022/23 rugby season, in Europe, and Ronan O'Gara is leaning on a somewhat novel way to get his troops over the line.
The La Rochelle coach, for the third successive season, is in hot pursuit of trophies on dual fronts. Toulouse denied them in 2020/21, in the Champions Cup and Top 14 finals, while they claimed the Champions Cup with a memorable win over Leinster, last May.
On Saturday night, at Stade Velodrome, La Rochelle put thoughts of their upcoming Champions Cup final rematch [on May 20] with Leinster to one side. They were in Marseille for a Top 14 clash with Toulon and they were deserving, 23-8 victors. The result saw them go top of the league standings, albeit with second-place Toulouse at home to Bordeaux on Sunday evening.
Following the game, O'Gara opened up on his team's preparations in Marseille ahead of the game against Toulon. It is a refreshing way to approach and often tat and testy time of the season.
Ronan O'Gara on pre-match prep in Marseille
"We played an average game," Ronan O'Gara conceded to Rugbyrama after his side's win over Toulon.
"We defended like dogs. I am proud of my boys. It's a good performance."
Knowing that players are nearing the finish line of what he, last week, referred to as a '10-month slog', O'Gara and his coaching staff went relatively easy on the playing squad. "We had decided to have Monday and Tuesday off to rest well," he said.
"The players are hungry. They like to play well. It's perfect for us. I have an experienced team for the big games. We like to win. A lot of satisfaction in our defence. We are never stressed. We were calm from start to finish. We killed the clock at the end of the game. We have experienced players. We found a solution to make it easier to win."
O'Gara said he needs his 'whole group' of players to get through Toulon and Montpellier [next weekend] before sizing up Leinster for that Champions Cup final. On returning to Marseille, where La Rochelle won their first ever major trophy last season, the former Munster and Ireland star offered up more on some relaxed elements of the pre-match preparations.
"It's etched in our hearts. It's Marseille, baby!
"We were here on Thursday," he added. "We did a jog in Marseille, we drank a few beers, we took advantage of [the city]. It's the perfect evening. The Aviva Stadium and the Vélodrome de Marseille are the two stadiums in my heart."
Days off, bones rested, a job and some beers. On Saturday, his players went out and did their job.
This is an all-star side that have had a taste of silverware and want to go even further, this season. One suspects it will be Leinster and [in the Top 14] Toulouse standing in their way, but you would not put more history past 'Stade Rochelais'.
WATCH HOUSE OF RUGBY HERE:
- Three Leinster stars make final shortlist for European Player of the Year
- Johnny Sexton's most cherished jersey swap shows how seriously he takes his rugby
- Antoine Dupont answered question about Wayne Barnes the only way he could
- Magnificent Munster left counting steep injury cost after brilliant win over Glasgow
- The Jacques Nienaber team talk that had Munster players straining at the leash