“It’s up to you to decide what you want to do.”
In 2022/23, we were fortunate enough to follow the journey of Ronan O’Gara and his La Rochelle team as they went on a quest to retain the Champions Cup and claim their first ever Top 14 title.
Our ‘A Season With’ series featured great moments and insights from the players and coaches O’Gara inherited and assembled after he returned from a successful Super Rugby stint with Crusaders. We heard from the likes of Gregory Alldritt, Donnacha Ryan, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Will Skelton, Dillyn Leyds, UJ Seuteni, Ultan Dillane, Levani Botia, Ronan O’Gara himself and more.
The goal was to prove their Champions Cup triumph in Marseille, back in May 2022, was not a one-off, while also challenging the likes of Racing, Bordeaux and Toulouse for their first ever Bouclier de Brennus.
The French side was also tracking the ups, downs and hard graft in between, over the course of the season. Stade Rochelais has now produced a sweeping, evocative documentary entitled ‘Back to Back’.
The doc, which runs for just under two hours, promises intimate behind-the-scenes moments and clips that have never been seen before as the viewer gets to ‘dive into the heart of the exceptional, epic team led by Ronan O’Gara’. The opening scenes recapture the glory of that first Champions Cup title before embarking on their defence of that title.
That La Rochelle Champions Cup campaign included a memorable trip to take on Ulster that ended up being played in Dublin, a last-gasp Last 16 win over Gloucester, the emphatic wins over Saracens and Exeter Chiefs, and a ding-dong final rematch with Leinster, at a teeming Aviva Stadium. Throughout the doc, we get to see how highly regarded Ronan O’Gara is by those that work with him, and play for him.
Tearful Rona O’Gara reflects on ‘Back to Back’ success
Back in August, the rugby world was equal parts awed and amused at a Ronan O’Gara team-talk delivered to his La Rochelle side that went viral on social media.
Delivered in French but with a Cork twang and the odd English word sprinkled in, O’Gara certainly got his point across about ‘L’opportunité est f***ing énorme’.
In the Back to Back documentary, we see O’Gara delivering a great speech to his victorious team in the Stade Marcel-Deflandre dressing room after they blitzed Saracens in the quarter final. The thumping 47-28 semi-final win over Exeter gets plenty of air-time before we join the squad on a flight to Dublin.
We get to see some of O’Gara’s chat with his squad on the night before the final, against Leinster. He recalls how Munster got too pumped before the 2000 Heineken Cup final, which they lost to Northampton Saints. The Cork native, wary of getting too amped before a big game, still tells his charges that the club want to be the best in the world, and that going back-to-back in Europe is a massive step towards that.
As we now know, Leinster were the ones that were fired up and whop sprang out of the traps. Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster’s men scored three rapid tries and were 17-0 up after 18 minutes. La Rochelle answered back with tries from Jonathan Danty and UJ Seuteni but still trailed 23-14 at the break. The documentary features O’Gara at his most open about what was said at the half-time break.
“The truth was for me at 17-0, I was preparing a speech just to save our pride. I said to myself, ‘It will be hard going back to La Rochelle tonight after this’. We were not far from getting the biggest spanking in a Champions Cup final.”
We then get to see and hear some of that half-time rallying call from the former Munster and Ireland star.
Simply put, he is trying to get across to his men that Leinster are levelling off. If they can keep their discipline and stay in the fight, he insists, the game is not over yet.
“They’ve given all their energy. We’re calm but were not going go give them presents. I want discipline, okay? This is the moment to look your teammate in the eye and f***ing encourage him.”
Antoine Halstoy scored two second half penalties, either side of a response from Ross Byrne, but Leinster were starting to flag badly. They were defending heroically but could barely muster up four or five phases of attack to counter the La Rochelle pressure.
That pressure told, though, when prop Georges-Henri Colombe powered over to, when Halstoy converted, give La Rochelle a 27-26 lead. Leinster came close to snatching victory, themselves, but a late Michael Ala’alatoa red card ended their hopes. The French side had retained their trophy.
The doc flashes back to a visibly emotional Ronan O’Gara as he reflected on the greatest achievement of his impressive coaching career.
“I’ll never forget it,” he declares.
“Years from now, that day will… It will stay with me, all my life.”
You can watch that full documentary here, and La Rochelle have told us a version with English subtitles will be coming in January 2024.
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