Speaking to his La Rochelle side on the eve of the Heineken Champions Cup final, Ronan O’Gara did his best to take the emotion out of the occasion.
It’s easy to become overly dependent on emotion on big days, and while that invariably plays a role, there’s a balance to be struck.
That’s why when O’Gara spoke to his players on Friday at their team hotel in Marseille, he dealt with cold hard facts.
Although he always prefers the human side of the game, O’Gara’s coaching journey has taught him that statistics can be his friend because it’s all well and good trying to convince your players that they could beating Leinster, but having had the data to back it up only reinforced his deep belief that La Rochelle would win.
“His pitch was very, very strong because he showed us that every statistic (said) Stade Rochelais was better than Leinster and that changed something in the minds of the guys,” said the La Rochelle general manager. , Pierre Venayre.
“I saw that. It was great because the trap could be to speak emotionally and ROG was very cold. You saw that with the team on the ground, (we were) very effective.
Venayre was the man who saw O’Gara enough to know he was the right man to lead La Rochelle. The Cork native has already repaid that faith in spades.
“When you have coaches like Patrice Collazo, Jono Gibbes before, they changed the mentality because we came from the second division, so even though we were working seriously and running the club with a lot of confidence and ambition, we needed in a special voice and Ronan has it,” Venayre continued.
For Donnacha Ryan, Saturday’s Champions Cup success reinforced his feeling that La Rochelle were about to experience something special when he played against them with Racing last season.
As soon as O’Gara learned that his former Munster and Ireland team-mate was considering hanging up his boots, he persuaded Ryan to join him in La Rochelle. In truth, it didn’t take much persuading.
“It all starts with ROG,” insisted Ryan.
“To me, ROG is just non-stop. I don’t know where he gets his energy from. He likes to keep things tight and everyone feels involved, which is huge.
“I had long discussions with him about resting players at key times with a view to them being right for those massive games at the end of the season.
“He got all that experience from Racing and Crusaders. The fundamentals were there and the CEO just needed to bring in that bit of stardust.
“It’s a weekly thing to set the standards for him. Then he wants to be around really good people to help him do that. He also has a natural rapport with the players and the board.
“He has a vision of where he sees the club going and he brings everyone with him. His greatest strength is that he allows people to do their job. That’s all the more difficult for a foreign coach who arrives with the language barrier and who understands French culture.
“He acclimated to it very quickly. The fundamental thing he always mentions is bringing like-minded people with you. You saw that belief in the players at the end of the game. They played until ‘to death.
As much as O’Gara’s fingerprints were all over La Rochelle’s stunning game plan, so were Ryan’s as well, as the Tipperary native helped tighten the French side’s lineup and maul , while working on their breakdown, which was so effective in nullifying Leinster.
“He is very professional, very precise. We are very happy (with him),” Venayre said of Ryan.
As O’Gara’s stock continues to rise, Ryan is also on the rise, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him given more responsibility in future seasons.
“For me, ROG has been generous enough to give me an opportunity here and I will be extremely grateful,” added Ryan.
“His work ethic is incredible and I have no doubt he has the potential to do whatever (the job) he wants to do. He was successful at Racing, Crusaders and now at La Rochelle.
“It wasn’t by chance that this happened. I’m sure it didn’t go unnoticed either. For him, if he has his mindset on something, he will get there.