showdown | 

Ronan O’Gara steps up the mind-games ahead of Champions Cup final

Munster legend relishing showdown with Leinster

La Rochelle head coach Ronan O'Gara. Photo: Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

As EPCR confirmed that next week’s Heineken Champions Cup final between Leinster and La Rochelle is a sell-out, the mind-games between the two camps stepped up a notch this morning.

Speaking on Off the Ball, the French side’s director of rugby, Ronan O’Gara, questioned the motives of former Leinster hooker James Tracy, who last week accused La Rochelle of pushing the boundaries of the laws.

Tracy, who retired from rugby during this season due to a neck issue, said Leinster would need ‘good officials because if they get away with not holding their own body weight and killing the ball there’s not much you can do really” in the aftermath of the holders’ semi-final win over Exeter Chiefs.

“They get away with it time after time,” he added, while he flagged what he saw as hooker Pierre Bourgarit breaking the 15m line at the back of lineouts illegally, which allowed him to put extra pressure on the Exeter attack.

Tracy came off the bench when Leinster lost to La Rochelle in the 2021 semi-final and was part of the wider squad last season when they lost the final in Marseille.

O’Gara clearly feels his complaints reflect those of the Leinster set-up.

“Wow, that’s interesting. I never heard that,” he said.

“Is James Tracy part of the Leinster set-up? He’s retired within this season, he’s obviously in the set-up. He’s a family member.

“If a guy gets injured he remains part of that set-up until the end of that season and you’re presented with something.

“It’s interesting. I’m wondering if it’s a plant on Leinster’s behalf or James Tracy embarking on a new career, that’s the first thing that strikes me because in terms of the breakdown, he has an opinion about stopping Leinster.

“We could turn it to ‘how do you stop La Rochelle?’ it depends on how you frame the question, how do you see it.

“It will become a little bit spicy in the build-up to the game, certain camps put a huge emphasis on work behind the scenes with referees but my 10 years has taught me to control what we can control, put your energy into that and the better team will win on the day.”

Asked about Tracy’s point, O’Gara said: “All good teams push the boundaries, there’s no doubt about that.

“What’s different between the guys he would have trained with and the guys in my camp is the physical power; it’s not easy to win collisions when you run into a Bourgarit, a (Gregory) Alldritt, a Uini Atonio, a (Will) Skelton.

“Footwork from the ball-carrier becomes important, otherwise it becomes a mismatch. The more dominant player wins otherwise.

“It’s something we’ve been very good at, no matter who we’re playing or whose reffing.

“What good sides, great sides do is they put their energy into themselves because everyone has a different viewpoint. It’s easy to go whinging to the referee and say ‘they’re not supporting their body-weight’, stuff like that.

“It’s an interesting clip, thank you.”

Munster and Ireland legend O’Gara is relishing returning to his old stomping ground at Lansdowne Road.

“I’m removed from the chit-chat in the pubs, the shops in Dublin and its surrounding counties but what’s undeniable is that Leinster are very good but a lot of teams let them be very good,” he said.

“The plan would be to play as much ball as we can and the better team will win.

“They’ve been very impressive, it makes it more daunting but way more exciting because the consequence of hitting top form and producing a season’s best performance which we’ll need – it brings its own reward.

“I can see the privilege, the joy of preparing a team to win a European Cup final. It excites me.

“There’ll be sub-plots, energy put in into different things but it will come down to who executes on the day.”

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