Ronan O'Gara finding his place in Crusaders country
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - MARCH 30: Crusaders coach Ronan O'Gara speak to ENCA sports reporter Timothy Sibanda during the Crusaders Press Conference at Southern Sun Montecasino on March 30, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

After beginning his term in Super Rugby, it seems Ronan O’Gara is finding his place in ‘Crusaders country’. After the week 14 victory over the Blues, Last Word on Rugby interviewed O’Gara on how he feels about the transition, what affect he is having on the franchise, and the possibilities of this season.

Catching up with O’Gara just outside his teams’ changing shed, the former Ireland International was gracious in his comments – after the Crusaders defeated the Blues, 24-32.

“It’s going fantastic. Very rewarding, interesting people as well as rugby players. A lot of different ideas. I have different ideas too, which I’m strong on some points, and flexible on others. There is a lot of quality in the backs.” He states that it’s an exciting time to be coaching them; in his role as backs coach.

“I’m enthralled by the challenge.”

Ronan O’Gara finding his place in Crusaders country

The challenge might be in the adjustment from his rugby experiences in the Northern hemisphere too. A Cork native, his 10 years with Munster saw many Celtic league titles, as well as success wearing the emerald green jersey. Now, since finishing his playing days and his five years coaching with Racing 92, the next challenge is in Super Rugby.

The Crusaders are a franchise with the same history of success as Munster. And with Ronan O’Gara joining Scott ‘Razor’ Robertson, it appears to be a great fit. In respect of his ‘place’ at the Crusaders, the former International pivot is working with the likes of Richie Mo’unga, Mitchell Hunt and the franchises backline. “There is a lot of positives.

“When Richie broke his jaw, I said to him ‘every cloud has a silver lining’. He was able to work on other parts of his game – and we need him to be in form.” [Subsequently, Mo’unga has been named in All Blacks squad].

O’Gara sees bright future for Richie Mo’unga

Asked what his analysis of the 24 year olds qualities are. “I think his strength is his unpredictability. You saw that tonight, with his ‘chip & chase’ attempt [ruled a knock on by the TMO]. That sums him up.

“He has a lot of class. And you get better with age in that position. And the great thing about it is that he wants to learn. Wants to get better. Who knows where he will end up,” was the report from the one-time, highest-scoring kicker in Test rugby.

Mentor might be the wrong term – although it was one even placed on O’Gara at Racing 92; after the signature of Dan Carter at the club. Now O’Gara is finding his place in Crusaders country. And while in New Zealand he may be idolized as the quintessential European player, he is also a good man to have involved.

And is clear on his place as essentially a ‘facilitator’.

Ronan O’Gara ’empowering’ players at the Crusaders

Working closely with assistant coach Brad Mooar and forwards coach Jason Ryan, and led by the strong personality that is Scott Robertson, the coaching group are a modern team. Empowering players, more so than directing them. Wanting to get the best out of men like David Havili, Braydon Ennor and Jack Goodhew.

The Crusaders philosophy is all about the individual, his wellbeing, mindfulness.

Asked about the differences between coaching players in New Zealand, than it is to his experience with French Rugby, he expressed similarities. “It’s quite similar in some regards, and different in others. Here we have many New Zealand players. In France, you had talent brought in from around the world. That’s very different. It’s driven by the owners.

“Very similar in regard to Munster though, where I played. A lot of similar values. No I think it’s good; mix a little of the positives from Racing, the positives from Munster and the positives of the Crusaders.”

At the time, Munster were just preparing to play Leinster in the Guinness Pro14 semi-finals. LWOR enquired if he might watch the game [in the early hours of the NZ morning]. “I could easily. I have it on my phone, but I need to be fresh this week. We have a big game against the Hurricanes on Friday night”.

Crusaders currently leading New Zealand Super Rugby conference

“It’s a cliché, but we say ‘last game>next game’. Look to review this game, take some learnings from it. We took some good learnings from the Waratahs game, and I think we started better against the Blues.”

Ronan O’Gara and the coaching group will now turn their attention to the next game. The Hurricanes. The most challenging side for the Crusaders; in the NZ conference. “From that point of view, we need to be better again because obviously, the Hurricanes are a form team.”

For the 2017 champions, it’s an opportunity to “test ourselves against a top of the table team,” O’Gara says. “We are excited by it.” The Friday night fixture could well prove which side can truly call themselves the leading NZ team.

That match will be followed by another local derby; the Chiefs up in Hamilton. Before the June Internationals break up Super Rugby. Although, Ronan O’Gara will stay with the playing team. They face the Western Force away in Perth, and then meet a French XV at home on AMI Stadium.

Ronan O’Gara seems comfortable, but still enthralled by Super Rugby. The competition re-starts after the June test series, on Friday, July 6 when they face another mighty challenge of the Highlanders.

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