Stade Rochelais head coach Ronan O’Gara, who was appointed manager until 2024 following the announcement of Jono Gibbes’ departure for Clermont, talks to RMC Sport ahead of the Champions Cup semi-final against the Leinster (Sunday, 4 p.m.) with ambition, and the desire to set no limits.
Ronan, how are you preparing for this semi-final against Leinster?
We’re in good shape. We are full of enthusiasm for this match. It’s a meeting that brings a lot of prestige to this club but I hope this is only the beginning. For me it’s not interesting to play a semi-final. There are 80 minutes to have the opportunity to beat a team like Leinster and behind 80 minutes for a final. Now is when the real work begins and when I say that I say it with a lot of excitement. It’s a great opportunity for the club and the players. I often say that we do not work, we are in rugby and it is only fun. I’ve created an environment here that gives players the opportunity to express themselves and that’s important to me. If the players are in pain, it’s because I missed my job.
We have the feeling that the ambitions and the discourse have changed in La Rochelle this season. Now you’re aiming for titles …
The only difference between the players and me is that I’m older, more experienced. I’ve seen more things than them and I can tell you what’s horrible for a player is having regrets on their couch. It’s too late when we’re on the couch. We need to have plans and give everything to implement them. If you lose, you can sleep behind but if you fail in the preparation, if you did not give the maximum, you will have regrets and we know that life is a fight with yourself. For me it is impossible to say where our limit is. In 5 years, will we be talking about La Rochelle as a club which has already won 3 titles or which only has the capacity? I do not know. But we must stop setting limits. We are able to really do huge things.
What kind of match do you expect this Sunday?
I don’t know Leinster very well. I played in Ireland in 2013, it’s been 8 years. They have evolved well. I don’t have a friend there. They have good guys. Since 2010 it is perhaps the most successful club in Europe. They are used to winning the Champions Cup, they have history with them but we know that the best team will win. I have good players who are hungry and want to do something and that is just as powerful.
What makes La Rochelle (2nd in the Top 14) so successful this season?
State of mind. Strategy is one thing, but the mindset is created by the players. They want to do something together. It doesn’t matter who plays, it’s important to see that the guys who wear the jersey are good and it’s up to me to create good conditions for competition between them. In France we have a lot of games, you need a large squad and everyone will have opportunities. This season the guys who have played have been very successful and it’s good when the club works like that.
Given the current dynamic, do you tell yourself that this is a good year for Stade Rochelais?
No, I do not think so. We are only touching on the subject. There is a lot of talent in La Rochelle, a lot is possible here but it’s up to me to show the way. I take this role very seriously with a lot of passion. We have world-class players, it’s normal that they play well. It’s no secret, look at the squad in front and behind. But we never talk about victory. What interests me is having successful groups. The players are ambitious and now is the time to win titles.
You were promoted to manager until 2024 following the announcement of the departure of Jono Gibbes for Clermont at the end of the season, it is a new level of achievement in your coaching career …
I wasn’t looking for more responsibilities. If you ask everyone here, I give my best for my team. Since I have been here, I have been working as hard as possible. Jono (Gibbes) let me do things the way I wanted, he’s always been behind me and that’s great. I am making progress every day and am quite confident with what I have learned in the past. I have fun with the players. At the end of the day, my mission is to prepare the team well, it was already the case before, nothing will change.