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18th Jun 2023

“What a player!” – Ronan O’Gara puts heartbreak to one side to praise Romain Ntamack

Patrick McCarry

Ronan O'Gara

“What an athlete. What a player!”

As a former outhalf of some distinction, Ronan O’Gara could only respect the game-changing break and burst from Romain Ntamack, even if it broke La Rochelle hearts.

140 seconds from the club’s first ever Top 14 title, UJ Seuteni had a rush of blood and broke the defensive line. Ntamack cruised by him, evaded a Dillyn Leyds tackle and ramped by Brice Dulin, who was pressed too far up. His 60-metre run turned a four-point deficit into a match-winning try.

The brilliant score [below] delivered Toulouse’s 22nd Top 14 title and denied La Rochelle, the European champions, an historic double.

Ronan O'Gara

Ronan O’Gara on Romain Ntamack

The title-clinching try arrived only minutes after Romain Ntamack’s missed kick for touch looked to have handed the title to La Rochelle on a plate.

“In the 75th minute, when I missed that kick, I told myself that it was perhaps game over,” Ntamack told L’Equipe.

“I tried to ignore it, even if it was not easy, but I immediately had the guys coming over to say, ‘Come on, it’s good, it’s not over, there are five minutes left, anything can happen’. They were great, they picked me up. I’m very happy to have scored more for these guys, who helped me overcome this big moment in the game, more so than for myself.”

Ronan O’Gara fronted up by speaking with the media for a long stretch, in the bowels of Stade de France, after his side’s gut-punch defeat. He put aside the heartache to praise Ntamack.

A match lasts 80 minutes – I learned it when I was a player,” the La Rochelle head coach said. “It’s never over against Toulouse.

“Unfortunately tonight we make bad decisions in the end. Kudos to Romain Ntamack for having the ability to score a try like that. What an athlete, what a player! It is an exceptional try. For a try like that, you deserve to win. We were not close to our level tonight. Penalties cost us the game.”

This is the second time in three Top 14 seasons that La Rochelle have fallen to Toulouse at the final hurdle. “At 13-13 it was perfectly set up,” O’Gara reflected.

“We started the second half well, and we scored a try, but then we slept for a bit. We were dominant in the scrum; we were just a little off [elsewhere]. It’s difficult now.”

O’Gara rued that the season will now be looked back as Toulouse being the top dogs and his side not being capable of sealing the deal but that, he said, is far from the complete story.

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