Ronan O'Gara: From 'selfish' player to top coach

London (AFP) –


Ronan O'Gara deserves the highest praise for transforming himself from a "selfish" player into an empathetic coach, according to his former Munster and Ireland teammate Marcus Horan.

O'Gara will enjoy his biggest day yet as a coach on Saturday when his La Rochelle side take on fellow Top 14 team Toulouse in the European Champions Cup final at Twickenham.

Fly-half O'Gara and prop Horan were integral members of the Munster side that won the European Cup twice, including a victory over Toulouse in the 2008 decider.

Horan has nothing but admiration for how 44-year-old O'Gara has progressed up the coaching ladder since hanging up his boots in 2013.

"I would have played with ROG a lot with Ireland and Munster from schoolboys through to the seniors but I never saw him as being a future coach and I say that in the best possible way," Horan told AFP.

"He would go out and do his extras (kicking the ball) and he was so determined I felt he was almost an individual athlete as he would work on his own.

"It was like his kicking was a sport within the game."

However, coaching roles at Top 14 side Racing 92 and then with Super Rugby giants Crusaders helped shape a new O'Gara, who has been head coach at La Rochelle since 2019.

"I have been really impressed," said Horan. "In his time since retirement he has got a lot of empathy and it is clear from his manner with the players.

"He has probably done some self-analysis after being selfish as a player, for want of a better word, when he would not let anything stand in his way.

"As a coach you have to think of everybody else and from my standpoint he has been on a journey of improving himself."

- 'Big messages' -

Horan says his former team-mate's ability to understand different rugby cultures is evident in the way La Rochelle play.

Head coach O'Gara has instilled a "keep the ball alive" attacking approach, which he learned while at Crusaders in New Zealand.

"He is a very adaptable guy and definitely evolving," said Horan. "His own career, he never felt he was the finished article. He would always be learning to do things differently and beg, borrow or steal ideas that were out there.

"He is a very open guy, which is a great trait to have."

Horan says what makes both O'Gara and another Munster great Paul O'Connell -- now the Ireland forwards coach -- good at their job is their love for the game.

"If you have that love and passion it is easy to bounce out of bed in the morning," said the 43-year-old, who also tasted 2009 Six Nations Grand Slam success with O'Gara.

The 67-times capped Horan said the old Munster ties would lead to floods of messages for O'Gara this week.

"We (the former Munster players) have our WhatsApp group so there will be many big messages going his way in the next couple of days," said Horan.

"It is a massive week for him and everyone wants him to do well.

"There is still a great connection amongst us and even if we have not seen each other for quite a while we always pick up from where we left off."

When eventually O'Gara is able to travel home he will be well-advised to have nothing booked the following day.

"When we do have a get-together that could be dangerous," said Horan.