SPOTLIGHT: Ronan O’Gara has said he wants to coach his native Ireland after steering La Rochelle to a second consecutive European Champions Cup success.
The French club staged a stunning comeback from 0-17 down to beat Leinster 27-26 at Lansdowne Road on Saturday in what was effectively a home game for the Dublin-based Irish province.
The 46-year-old former flyhalf, capped 128 times by Ireland, made no secret of his ambition but stressed he was prepared to bide his time, with Ireland having just won a Six Nations Grand Slam under English coach Andy Farrell.
“Yes, of course, I want to coach Ireland as well but you have got to earn that right,” O’Gara told the BBC.
As a player, O’Gara had many great days at Lansdowne Road but he said Saturday’s success, which followed La Rochelle’s equally dramatic 2022 Final win over Leinster, was right up there with the best of them.
“It’s brilliant, fantastic,” he said. “It’s such a happy place. The boys emptied the tank, it wasn’t looking promising obviously for a lot of the game, but we got back into it at half-time.
“Being nine points down was a big bonus for us, even though that sounds contradictory, but we were very happy with that.
“We knew we had them in the maul, we didn’t get enough pay-back out of that but we got it in the end. It’s beyond a special day for us.”
Leinster have now lost three finals since winning their fourth title in 2018, with a thrilling La Rochelle recovery on Saturday capped by Georges-Henri Colombe’s late try.
Asked to rank this win among his list of achievements, O’Gara – Ireland’s record points-scorer and second most-capped player, replied: “Because it is the freshest it is always the best, isn’t it?
“I am just proud of the character of the team, 0-17 down and away from home, they could have easily found a way to find an excuse but these boys have character and character is important in sport.”
He added: “We are probably beginning to be seen as a special team and I think the boys deserve to be there.”
O’Gara, however, also had words of consolation for Leinster, his arch-rivals when he was playing for fellow Irish provincial giants Munster.
“Sport is ruthless,” he said. “I must admit that as a head coach or leader of this group, you feel for Leinster management and the players, it is horrible. One bus goes happy and the other bus is devastated.”