Ronan O'Gara: I will be contesting this latest charge with every fibre

There’s an old Irish saying: If you’ve a reputation for getting up early in the morning, you can stay in bed all day. This now seems to be a cant – O’Gara is at it again – and it’s repugnant nonsense.
Ronan O'Gara: I will be contesting this latest charge with every fibre

ANGUISH: England's Owen Farrell is taking a break from international rugby.

IT was interesting reading the comments of Mark McCall on the decision of his Saracens out-half Owen Farrell to take a sabbatical from his international career in 2024. Farrell is opting out to prioritise his family and his mental well-being after what McCall believes to be shameful treatment of the player from the public.

I can’t pretend to know how Owen Farrell is feeling or how he deals with the pressure of this gig, but I know that it comes in waves that reach a crescendo and resemble a tsunami. Of course it comes with the gig but in the wake of Ireland’s disastrous 2007 World Cup in France, I was under a heat-lamp that was as intense as anything I felt in my career to that point.

It passes. Whether it leaves a residue changes from person to person, but if Owen Farrell thinks that parking his England career for the time being is the right call for him, then do it. He owes England nought. Clearly, the backlash to his pre-World Cup suspension was a tipping point, and there was a sense in how his father Andy spoke about the issue in the Irish media that indicated as much. A disgusting circus was how he put it.

There was a little bit of relatability in the debate for me this week as notice of another date with the disciplinary committee that governs French rugby was served in the wake of La Rochelle’s match in Paris against Racing 92.

Though the need to be a little circumspect on the detail is imperative, clearly the very real sense of victimisation is beginning to bubble up concerning the frequency of charge and the scale of the punishments.

The latest case will be heard next Wednesday and while compelled to be there anyway, I’d crawl over hot coal to bear witness to what is being levelled at me this time. It relates to brief words with the fourth and fifth officials at half time regarding the non-award of a penalty try for La Rochelle by the referee, Adrien Descottes. I have been cited for what is obliquely called ‘not good behaviour’.

If every head coach in the Top 14 was charged with ‘not good behaviour’ every time they questioned or commented on an erroneous decision, there wouldn’t be any time to do anything else from week to week. The Clermont coach Christophe Urios has slated officials publicly in the media but he isn’t an Irish coach making his way in France. And, it should be said, an Irish coach who isn’t likely to call a spade an agricultural implement any time soon.

At this stage, I’m not fretting if or how many games I will have to spend in the stands; the issue is more fundamental than that. In terms of the Top 14 and the professionalism that such a high-profile European league demands, it’s clear and obvious at this stage that the system is broken. Either way, I can sleep well knowing this time that if I’ve been sent to the stands, it isn’t anything exceptional or out of the ordinary in the context of what other Top 14 coaches say or do. 

At this stage, it appears to be a Ronan O’Gara thing and one can extrapolate from that what they want. Certainly, there is a sense here, without a hint of paranoia, that selective treatment is a concern. Others appear to be able to comment on officialdom with impunity, yet I look sideways at someone and I am up before a hearing committee again. It has got to a point where I am expected to operate in an emotional straitjacket, but officialdom has thrown away the key.

There’s an old Irish saying: If you’ve a reputation for getting up early in the morning, you can stay in bed all day. This now seems to be a cant – O’Gara is at it again – and it’s repugnant nonsense.

I await next Wednesday with interest to see what precisely I am charged with. For people who look at these things from the outside, they must be thinking ‘O’Gara is a loose cannon’ but that is so far removed from the facts of what happens as to be from a different realm altogether. So, yes. I will be contesting this charge with every fibre.

OLD FRIENDS: Ronan O'Gara (L) with Racing 92 assistant coach Dimitri Szarzewski.
OLD FRIENDS: Ronan O'Gara (L) with Racing 92 assistant coach Dimitri Szarzewski.

OF COURSE, when there is culpability there, one must acknowledge that, as I have done in the past. On occasions, I have most definitely questioned out loud these decisions and expressed frustration. One of the more enlightened decisions made by the LNR at the back end of last season was to organise preview/review meetings between match officials and clubs. These are attended by the official and the coaching staff of the club in question. So we met on Tuesday morning this week with Mr Descottes (because he is an amateur official, he was not in a position to meet La Rochelle last week, but that’s fine too), a productive meeting confirming that my grievances from the Racing 92 match held water and that they were well and fairly received by the official in question.

These Tuesday reviews have been a very productive development. They make people accountable before and after games. There are areas of the game that the La Rochelle players and coaching staff need to be held accountable, and they have nothing to do with the in-game decisions by the referee. That is important to point out. There are two separate issues: one is a lack of accuracy and ruthlessness from my team, the other important too in terms of receiving an acknowledgement of some refereeing decisions that will now be different and correctly interpreted and applied in future matches.

La Rochelle have won three of our eight games, and lie eleventh. That is not down to bad refereeing. It’s not a crisis but Saturday at home to Perpignan is in must-win territory. They lie 13th but if after thirty minutes, Perpignan are within one score of us they will fancy it because the perception is there that we don’t like a battle at the minute We need to be realistic and look around the corner, realising that if you lose at home to Perpignan, it’s unlikely you are going to beat Leinster a week later in the Champions Cup. The morning after that Leinster clash, we fly to South Africa to play the Stormers the following Saturday. It is not unreasonable to address the importance of winning this weekend in terms of a platform for what comes after. But right here, right now, our world is about Perpignan at the Stade Marcel Deflandre.

This is my first post-World Cup campaign as a head coach and I did not grasp the full extent of what has been a major, major hangover from the World Cup. The amount of French players sucked into the dream that France were going to be world champions, only to be dumped out at the quarter-finals. That’s a long road back psychologically to a place where they are ready for the hard yards of the Top 14. You can see fellas thinking, wow this club game is harder than I reckoned to get back up to speed with. How am I going to get going again?

RACING AHEAD: Stuart Lancaster during last week's 32-10 victory over La Rochelle
RACING AHEAD: Stuart Lancaster during last week's 32-10 victory over La Rochelle

Not everyone has been hit as hard. Stuart Lancaster was in great form last weekend when we chatted pre-match. He is a hugely organised coach, he is giving players game time, they have bought into his training methods, and all is rosy in Camp Racing 92. Pau lie second, behind the work of French U20 coach, Sebastien Piqueronies, who has brought a lot of cohesion to their group, which was largely unaffected by the World Cup. It won’t harm them either to have Sam Whitelock arriving there, that will be a big boost.

We have our own fillip back in the considerable shape of Will Skelton, who is finally back and playing this weekend. Nobody is losing their shit yet. The season before last, we were bottom at one stage, and we reacted well I think. There was a little bit of a turning point last week in Paris whren Teddy Thomas was red-carded inside 30 minutes. When it happened I thought yellow card at worst, maybe even just a penalty. But when I watched it back, he clothes-lined the fella. You can’t do that.

Justice served.

More in this section

Sport Push Notifications

By clicking on 'Sign Up' you will be the first to know about our latest and best sporting content on this browser.

Sign Up

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up
Cookie Policy Privacy Policy Brand Safety FAQ Help Contact Us Terms and Conditions

© Examiner Echo Group Limited