Ronan O'Gara delivers noble post-match speech as Toulouse win fifth European Cup
TOULOUSE 22-17 LA ROCHELLE
"Damn right I'm proud of them," said Ronan O'Gara, "but there's no point in being second best."
There was much sympathy from O'Gara, the La Rochelle head coach, for his red-carded player, Levani Botia.
La Rochelle were left rueing the first half red card received by centre Botia as they fell short against European kingpins Toulouse in the Champions Cup Final, at Twickenham.
That Botia red card, for a dangerous and high tackle on Maxime Medard, and the errant goal-kicking of Ihaia West ultimately did for a La Rochelle side that beat Leinster in the semi-final.
La Rochelle's Levani Botia simply HAD to go after that high shot on Medard pic.twitter.com/rf0eKsLAtb
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) May 22, 2021
La Rochelle went into the break 12-9 ahead but they were always going to be up against it with only 14 men on the pitch. Neither side played incredibly well and it was Romain Ntamack's more accurate goal-kicking that nudged Toulouse ahead.
Cheslin Kolbe was denied a try, mid-way through the second half, but you sensed they would eventually kick through the door. What turned out to be the match-winning try arrived, on 62 minutes, when centre Juan Cruz Mallia got over the whitewash.
That could have easily seen La Rochelle fly the white flag, but they dug deep and got a late try from Tawera Kerr Barlow. West missed the conversion, leaving O'Gara and Jono Gibbes' side needing another try to snatch victory. It was not to be, though, but O'Gara has serious questions about a penalty not being awarded against Ntamack after he was caught dawdling on the ball.
In his post-match interview with Shane Horgan, for Virgin Media, O'Gara was the epitome of class in defeat.
"It's tough, but my gut reaction says I don't think we were very accurate or very disciplined. We made it tight at the end and we got some contentious decisions, but we've got to park that.
"We weren't good enough on the day. I thought we were a bit hesistant in the first 40, and we missed a few kicks at goal. We didn't take our opportunities and they were hanging on. Even though you'd admire what we did with 14 men.
"You know, I'd ask myself about Botia - the poor guy that got sent off - he hadn't trained [before] and his timing was off a little bit [on that tackle]. It plays on my mind a little bit. Big time."
"That red does change the game," he added, "and we just kept them to one try, but we weren't accurate enough with the ball. We needed to be better. That's a little easier if you've got drier conditions but it's a bit of a learning curve. We were all-in today, it was all about winning. When you look back at that five point difference, 14 against 15 players, it's disappointing."
On that Ntamack moment, when he was swallowed up by three La Rochelle players but somehow did not concede a penalty, O'Gara gave his thoughts.
"We were the boys chomping on the bit, at the end. I can't wait to see the Ntamack against three. It's still an action part of the game. If he's holding on, on the ground, it's a penalty. You can kick to the touch and normally you can score from that. It's not sour grapes. We just weren't accurate enough in the first 40."
"Damn right I'm proud of them. We've come a long way.
"What we've worked on is the people, the player bit comes afterwards.
"It's just a bit sad now."
Another brilliant interview from Ronan O'Gara despite heartbreak at Twickenham.#LARvTOU | #HeinekenChampionsCup pic.twitter.com/wlzf0pLDzA
— Virgin Media Sport (@VMSportIE) May 22, 2021
"It's not as if we didn't threaten," he concluded. "Damn right I'm proud of them - of course I am - because we've come a long way, but there's no point in being second best."