A La Rochelle victory in the Champions Cup final would be the greatest moment in Ronan O’Gara’s coaching career, says his former Ireland teammate Brian O’Driscoll.
O’Gara’s stock has risen monumentally since he took his first role as assistant coach at Parisian side Racing 92 a decade ago.
After five years in the French capital, the 128-cap Munsterman won the Super League in New Zealand with the Crusaders before joining his current club in 2019.
O’Driscoll on O’Gara
On Saturday La Rochelle will become just the third team to play three consecutive Champions Cup finals when they take on Leinster – O’Driscoll’s old side and O’Gara’s former rivals.
It is a repeat of last year’s final, in which La Rochelle won their first ever major trophy with a 24-21 win in Marseille, and O’Gara is plotting another French upset in Dublin.
“On both sides of the ball, from a strategy point of view, he [O’Gara] got it spot on last year, playing to the width and attack and then firing off the line in defence and suffocating Leinster,” O’Driscoll tells City A.M.
“He has aspirations I’m sure to be an international coach, like all coaches do – you want to coach at the highest level.
“He wasn’t head coach two years ago [for La Rochelle’s first final appearance] but this is their third European final on the bounce – only two sides [Toulouse and Toulon] have managed to do that.
“That alone is very impressive. And listen, the kind of guy that ROG is, he’s one that pulls people together, he’s an endearing sort of character.
“He draws people into him but that’s sometimes counterintuitive to being a coach where you’ve got to keep yourself on the outside. It’s about striking the right balance.”
Leinster have had a pretty smooth ride to the final, winning all four of their pool matches before playing all of their knockout games at the Aviva Stadium – just a couple of miles from their home ground.
Champions Cup showdown
Saturday’s final, too, will be at the Irish national stadium, handing Leinster a huge advantage.
La Rochelle won their round of 16 and quarter-final matches at home but were forced by European chiefs to host their semi-final in Bordeaux.
“It’s big [playing in Dublin],” O’Driscoll adds. “I think it comforts Leinster but with that comes an additional pressure of having greater support.
“Of course there’s an advantage: the familiarity, sleeping in their own beds, they’ve been in the Aviva for the last four or five games.”
The Irish province remain favourites to lift the trophy, which would be their fifth in total, but the Dubliners have a recent history of losing key matches.
They were beaten by O’Gara’s former club Munster last weekend in the United Rugby Championship semi-finals and lost to the Bulls at the same stage last season. And of course they also lost the Champions Cup final last season.
“A lot of it is to do with what Leinster are allowed to do,” O’Driscoll says. “If they can stamp their authority the way they have so far I think they will win. But like last year, can La Rochelle be a nuisance at the breakdown and go for broke?
“All of those clicked together and gave them a victory in the last minute last year. This wasn’t a runaway defeat last year for Leinster; they had it robbed from them by a great strategic effort from La Rochelle.
“How do La Rochelle start the game? If they start it well I think we’ve got one hell of a battle on our hands.”
BT Sport is home of the Heineken Champions Cup. Watch this year’s final between Leinster and La Rochelle from 4pm, Saturday 20th May live and exclusive on BT Sport 2. Visit btsport.com/rugby