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ROG REUNION This is a massive test for Ronan O'Gara but he'll do everything in his power to sink Leinster

Ronan is among the best coaches around and will have La Rochelle primed

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Ronan O'Gara would love nothing better than to put one over his old foes Leinster

Ronan O'Gara would love nothing better than to put one over his old foes Leinster

Ronan O'Gara would love nothing better than to put one over his old foes Leinster

MAYBE it will happen next season in the European Cup, but have we missed a chance today for one last wonderful showdown between those two great heroes, and rivals, of Irish rugby – Ronan O’Gara and Johnny Sexton.

O’Gara coaches La Rochelle in the 2021 semi-final today, but Leinster’s Sexton misses the match through injury and that’s a massive shame.

Ronan will be up for this and he’ll have his men up for it. Let there be no doubt about that.

This match will resonate around European rugby, where O’Gara is acknowledged as one of the best young coaches around.

Ronan has just signed a three year contract to be coach and Director of Rugby at La Rochelle, the French club clearly believes in him.

The hope is that, at the end of his deal, Munster and then Ireland might come calling.

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Myself and Ronan O’Gara salute the Munster faithful.

Myself and Ronan O’Gara salute the Munster faithful.

Myself and Ronan O’Gara salute the Munster faithful.

But what if a club or country with more money than Munster and Ireland seek to employ this proud son of Cork?

This is now a professional game and you have to do your best by yourself, your family and your career.

Ronan coming back to these shores is not a given. We’ll need to make it attractive for him, in terms of advancing his own future.

Coaches in rugby now fall into two styles. There is the Warren Gatland-type, who gets good people to work under him in all the different facets of rugby.

And then pulls the strings to make it all come together.

The other is the coach who loves to get his boots on, to get mud on them through being out on the pitch, working with the players.

Ronan is most definitely in the latter camp, wherever he has gone in a growing career.

I remember asking ROG once what he thought he could contribute to the Crusaders when he went down to Christchurch to be an assistant coach there.

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The Crusaders had won two Super Rugby titles on the spin, they had All Blacks in nearly every position on the pitch – they hardly needed help!

“I looked at DVDs of some of their matches from the previous seasons,” he told me, “and they all seemed to end 40-25, with us winning.

“I decided I’d work on the 25, could we cut out just blasting away at teams and outscoring them because we had Dan Carter and other class acts? Could we defend better?

“Rugby has drift defences, and one up defences and shooting the gap defences. I went back to my days as a kid playing GAA and told them all to ‘mark your man’.

“The philosophy I gave to them was that if the opposition winger got a try then the fault lay with our winger.

“Same with the centre or scrum-half or whoever, you were supposed to stop them.

“Suddenly lads started to take personal responsibility and it became a matter of pride that the guy playing opposite you didn’t score.

“All of a sudden, with our lads motivated to defend better, the 25 went down to 12 and they thought I was a coaching genius!”

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Absence of Johnny Sexton puts the onus on Ross Byrne to deliver once again.

Absence of Johnny Sexton puts the onus on Ross Byrne to deliver once again.

Absence of Johnny Sexton puts the onus on Ross Byrne to deliver once again.

But that’s Ronan. Keep it simple is his motto. He won’t over complicate things, but he will add value to whatever is going on.

When he and Peter Stringer first came on board with Munster and then Ireland, I was a sort of a father-figure and minder to the pair of them.

The odd time ‘the Claw’ and Woody and I had to be minders in the literal sense, dealing out a bit of justice to anyone who thought the lads were a bit soft.

They weren’t actually, the two of them were hardy bucks. But if anyone took liberties with the lads then they answered to me or Peter Clohessy at the bottom of a ruck five minutes later.

Most of my involvement with ROG on the pitch was to give him instructions.

I knew nothing about out-half play, but I knew how to win. So you had to let the young lad know about that.

Munster might have a scrum or a line-out in their own 22. I’d simply say to him, ‘ROG, get us out of here, nothing daft, just get us out of here.’

I used to put it a bit more trenchantly than that it must be said, and Ronan always got the message. It was a different message, but the same thought process, when we had a line-out or scrum in the attacking 22.

‘ROG, don’t pull the trigger too soon here lad. Keep it steady, and whatever happens, we are not leaving this 22 without points of some sort, a try, a penalty, a drop goal – whatever it is – keep the scoreboard moving.’

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James Lowe and Garry Ringrose will be a threat for Leinster.

James Lowe and Garry Ringrose will be a threat for Leinster.

James Lowe and Garry Ringrose will be a threat for Leinster.

This is a big test for Ronan, as he won’t have faced a team like Leinster who, even without Johnny Sexton, will be ruthless when they get a chance to score.

In fact the closest team to them in rugby I can think of is the Crusaders he used to coach.

Leinster take almost every chance they get, it is their trademark as a team.

As well as motivating his players to take personal responsibility for stopping the likes of Garry Ringrose and James Lowe scoring tries, Ronan will have to organise his team to defend as a unit, because Leinster will hit them from everywhere, nothing surer.

We saw that in the quarter-final against Exeter. Leinster conceded two early tries to the best team in England and Europe, playing away from home. Is there panic, is there what?

Leinster calmly and methodically worked their way back into the match and won with a degree of ease in the end. That’s how good they are.

Sexton is a loss to Leinster, there’s no point trying to sugar-coat it.

Just as Ronan would be motiavted to get one over on the team in blue, so Johnny would have desired the chance of putting one over on his old rival for the Irish and Lions shirts.

Speaking of the latter, with Gatland announcing the Lions squad later this week, this is the last chance for those Leinster players on the borderline of selection to make a mark.

With no English, Welsh or Scottish club playing at this semi-fijnal stage, here is a chance, a wonderful chance, for a Leinster player to put his hand up with one big game.

I know that it can be done.

Ireland v England 1993, Lansdowne Road, we beat them, I played well, I got the winning try and the following morning I got a call up for the squad to go to New Zealand.

It could easily happen like that for one Leinster player who is on the edge of selection this morning.

I fancy Leinster to win this.

But, be sure of this, Ronan O’Gara will do everything he can to make their life so hard on the west coast of France today.

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