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Ronan O'Gara Explains Difficulty French Clubs Face When Competing On Both Fronts

Ronan O'Gara Explains Difficulty French Clubs Face When Competing On Both Fronts
By Gary Connaughton Updated
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There is an incredible amount of talent in French rugby at the moment.

Their test team has made remarkable strides over the last few years, going from a hugely inconsistent group to arguably the best side in the world. They will likely be favourites for the World Cup later this year, which will be hosted on home soil.

Their club scene is also in rude health. Remarkably, a French club has reached a Champions Cup final in nine of the last ten seasons, including winning it the last two. They could repeat that feat in 2023, with La Rochelle and Toulouse both qualified for the semi-final stage.

Having won the competition last year, La Rochelle will be hoping to defend their title. However, they are also in the hunt for a first ever Top 14 title, leaving Ronan O'Gara with quite the balancing act to pull off.

Ronan O'Gara explains difficulties French clubs face

Now in the business end of the season, the big games are coming thick and fast for La Rochelle.


They currently sit in second place in the Top 14, five points clear of third-placed Stade Francais with five games in the regular season left to play. As well as that, they are also preparing for a Champions Cup semi-final against Exeter Chiefs.

Finishing in the top two in the league would be vital, as it gives them a buy for the first round of the play-offs. As a result, O'Gara does not have the luxury of resting many players for domestic fixtures.


That is quite the contrast to some Irish teams. For example, Leinster have allowed a number of their key players to go on holiday this week while a second string outfit travels to South Africa to take on the Lions.

Writing in his column in the Irish Examiner, Ronan O'Gara explained why it has become so difficult for French teams attempting to compete in both domestic and continental competition.

There are five rounds of regular season remaining in France but there are no priorities. La Rochelle has never won the Bouclier, but its history has been rewritten by winning the Heineken Champions Cup in Marseille last May.

Winning a first Top 14 is a massive priority for the club, but every inch of me was reared on the European Cup...

It is not feasible in the Top 14 to cut and paste team selections, not with Champions Cup rounds to factor in as well. What is different is you can win in Europe with a team, but you need a group to win the Top 14.

Squeezed between Bayonne and Exeter is another home tie against Clermont Auvergne, and that presents different challenges. That’s a week out from the Champions Cup semi-final. But finishing at least second in the Top 14 offers enticing advantages for the play-offs.

If you are six points clear of third place, and you have three of your remaining five games at home, then you are in a decent place.

No point, after everything we’ve done, finishing anywhere from third to sixth, because that kills you. How? First and second places miss the ‘barrage’ (third v sixth, fourth v fifth), giving you a free weekend. A free weekend at this stage of the campaign is nirvana, it’s gold.

It gives you the chance to breathe and reload for that final season push. It might not seem much but being 160 minutes away from a Top 14 final and 240 minutes away is so much more than the 80 minutes.

When the air gets thinner and the minutes get harder, those 80 minutes are precious.

You can read the column in full here.

It will be interesting to see how La Rochelle cope over the coming weeks, with the team on course for a potentially historic season.


If Ronan O'Gara can lead them to two trophies, he will cement his place as the most exciting up and coming coach in world rugby.

SEE ALSO: The Thing With Munster Rugby Is They Usually Find A Way

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