Ireland and Munster legend Ronan O'Gara has been confirmed as the new head coach of French club La Rochelle.
The Corkman has spent the last year and a half down in New Zealand with Super Rugby champions Crusaders after getting his start in coaching with Racing 92 in France. O'Gara's current side are well placed to retain their Super Rugby crown, having already tied up the top seed from the New Zealand conference ahead of the playoffs.
He now becomes a head coach for the first time, taking charge of La Rochelle ahead of next season once the Super Rugby season is over in early July as he replaces the Montpellier-bound Xavier Garbajosa.
In a statement confirming his departure from Crusaders, O'Gara said:
"My family and I have thoroughly enjoyed our time in Christchurch and were welcomed in to the Crusaders family with open arms when we arrived in early 2018. This is one of the best rugby clubs in the world, and it certainly wasn’t an easy decision to move on from this team and their high-performance environment.
"I’m grateful to the Crusaders for the faith they’ve shown in me as a coach, and I’m incredibly fortunate to have worked alongside a world-class playing and management group for the last two seasons. While I see this move to La Rochelle as the next step in my coaching career and an exciting opportunity for my young family, I’d like to think, long-term, this is not necessarily the end of my time with the Crusaders.
"My focus now is helping to deliver a successful 2019 campaign with the side before my family and I return to France at the end of the season."
La Rochelle finished this season fifth in the Top 14, beating O'Gara's old club Racing 92 away from home in the end-of-season playoffs before falling to regular season champions Toulouse in the semi-finals at the weekend.
This season's playoff appearance means they will compete in the Champions Cup next season after spending this previous year in the Challenge Cup, losing the final to Top 14 rivals Clermont last month.
The club's director of rugby, former Ulster coach Jono Gibbes, said: "Ronan O'Gara joins the staff as head coach. He knows the Top 14 well, he has experience. He will bring a high level of skill."
"Ronan O'Gara rejoint le staff en tant qu'entraîneur principal. Il connaît bien le Top 14, il a de l'expérience. On a beaucoup de chances qu'il nous rejoigne. Il va apporter un gros niveau de compétences" Jono Gibbes #FievreSR
— Stade Rochelais (@staderochelais) June 12, 2019
O'Gara will be well-resourced in the west of France as La Rochelle's squad boasts French internationals such as Uini Atonio, Danny Priso and Geoffrey Doumayrou as well as former All-Black Victor Vito.
The move puts an end to any hopes that he could return to Munster as part of Johann van Graan's background team, as had been rumoured in some quarters ahead of the new season.