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Ronan O'Gara's La Rochelle had a bit of the 'Munster dog' in them

I’m so happy for ROG that he has won a massive trophy as a young coach.
Ihaia West of La Rochelle, is mobbed by team mates after kicking the last minute conversion to confirm their victory during the Heineken Champions Cup Final match between Leinster Rugby and La Rochelle at Stade Velodrome. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Ihaia West of La Rochelle, is mobbed by team mates after kicking the last minute conversion to confirm their victory during the Heineken Champions Cup Final match between Leinster Rugby and La Rochelle at Stade Velodrome. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Mick Galwey

Last night’s European Rugby Cup Final in Marseille proved one thing.

That when Andy Farrell steps aside as Irish coach, whenever that may be, either Ronan O’Gara or Leo Cullen has to step into his job.

This stuff of foreign coaches in Irish rugby has served its purpose.

It gave time for lads to come through and here they are, two men who inspired La Rochelle and Leinster to great heights in a titanic battle for the most important Cup in Eurpean club rugby.

I’m so happy for ROG that he has won a massive trophy as a young coach.

He will only get better for this, it will fill Ronan with confidence as a coach.

And you have to wonder about those who said it was too soon for him to take over at Munster when the job of Head Coach came available earlier this year.

Now it looks as though Munster ought to have broken the bank to get him, to do whatever it took to bring him and his family back to Ireland.

He has taken a team that was in the second division of French rugby eight years ago to successive European Finals, and now he’s won one of them.

The more I think about it, the more I get very annoyed.

Christ, Ronan ought to be returning to Limerick to take over as Munster coach in August. He was staring at us in the face, while saying it wasn’t the time.

But it was the time, he’s just won the European Cup – and he ‘gets’ Munster rugby.

Ronan lost two European Cup Finals with Munster as an out-half, but not back-to-back.

That’s what he was facing last night, with La Rochelle having lost in last year’s decider to Toulouse.

The same club to whom they eventually lost the French title last year.

Dare I say it, there was a bit of Munster ‘dog’ in La Rochelle in this Final – they were not going to take no for an answer.

Ronan had drilled that much into his charges.

They beat Leinster 3-1 on tries and they were powerful beyond belief.

A good big fella will always beat a good little fella, and while Leinster’s players aren’t exactly small, you have to say they were dwarfed last night by the La Rochelle players, who were huge in height and bulk.

Where is the game of rugby going, if every top player has to be the size of La Rochelle’s players last night?

That is a valid question for another day. But the French club’s massive physical power was awesome in this final.

Having said that, Leo Cullen is a worthy future Irish coach, and he most certainly is, you have to question Leinster’s game plan last night.

When faced with a big team, the one way to bring them down to size is to run them off their feet.

It doesn’t matter if you are a 6ft 5ins, 18st wing-forward, you cannot run around a rugby pitch at pace for 80 minutes and more.

I felt Leinster did not try to run the ball enough yesterday, maybe they felt they didn't have enough good possession.

Maybe they were wary of La Rochelle on the break, but I just felt Leinster could have played the ball around the park a bit better and stretched La Rochelle’s big players.

The French team was quite happy with every minute spent at close quarters.

And yet Leinster’s defence was so good, so strong, so dynamic, but they were just worn down in the last dramatic phase of play that saw La Rochelle grab the cup.

They’ll be gutted about that, that is came down to a last defensive stand for the trophy they wanted above all, albeit a stand that would have had to last for six minutes, Leinster just could not clear their lines in that time.

Maybe it had all been going too well for Leinster this season.

Winning games with your ‘B’ team is grand, but does that bring the right mindset to the camp before a really big game?

I’m not sure that Leinster’s back-up side beating Munster last week was a good idea.

It may have made the Irish club too happy, too confident, going into this game. Was the proper fire in the bellies there?

Johnny Sexton alluded to that after the game, when he said that his team had not played as they have done in other big games this season.

Johnny Sexton of Leinster holds his head as he walks past the Heineken Champions Cup. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Johnny Sexton of Leinster holds his head as he walks past the Heineken Champions Cup. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

They have made the running in the URC Championship and in Europe all along, looking like the best side around.

Yet, last weekend, while Leinster were resting their top men, La Rochelle had to play everybody available to win their last game in the Pro 14 in order to make the play-offs in that league.

Which game served as better preparation for the final last night? I think we know now!

The mighty Will Skelton was not supposed to play for the rest of this season for La Rochelle, but there he was last night, having a huge influence on the match.

If Australia don’t pick him for the World Cup next year, there is something seriously wrong with the administration of their game.

I know all the rugby unions like to have their rules about players playing abroad.

But just as we made an exception for Sexton a few years ago, when he was with Racing 92, so Australia have to make an exception for this guy.

Speaking of the World Cup, I come back to one of my favourite topics, aren’t the French in a massive position as they prepare to host the competition next year.

World Under-20 champions in 2018 and 2019, Six Nations winners this year and two French clubs have now won back-to-back European Cups.

More and more, it is set up hugely for them to go very close to their Holy Grail of winning the World Cup.

France have lost three World Cup Finals over the years, they are determined 2023 will be their year. Would you bet against them now?


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