Ronan O'Gara: Right now, I’m a walking, talking contradiction

Ronan O’Gara: Right now, I’m a walking, talking contradiction

The opening dispatch of the new campaign shouldn’t really be about standards and attitude, but a five-hour bus journey home from a dreadful defeat in Bayonne tends to take you down some dark alleyways.

It was good La Rochelle players and management had a long road home from a 29-13 stuffing. Everyone had to sit and suffer. Donncha Ryan was alongside, stewing at an under-performing lineout and blaming himself, not because he ought to, but because he cares and takes these things personally.

The head coach? Well, the head coach is a walking, talking contradiction at the moment. I am stewing at the shoddy standards of the players, of the attitude I don’t want to recognize.

But I am midway through a six-week suspension for disrespecting the authority of a match official against Lyon, so how strong is my own moral authority when I eyeball the players? The suspension, which doesn’t expire until the end of the month, is becoming a significant issue. The malaise started right here. I have to put my hand up. Once they see their coach speaking poorly to the officials, it speaks to a poor attitude and bad standards.

The fact I am not in the dressing room at half-time last Saturday in Bayonne means there is no eye contact with a player, no presence and no accountability. The difference between that personal interaction and second-hand messages is the difference between shaking the family’s hand at a funeral and sending a mass card. The former cuts right to the heart of the moment. It’s a small thing but these become big things when you are losing games in the manner we did.

You wouldn’t think that was only our second loss of the season on Saturday from six games but there are ways to lose a game. And there are ways you absolutely do not lose a game.

All the while, I am pondering the fact that prior to the end of last season, this was not a club with a winning culture or heritage to draw on. Then came the Champions Cup and it’s inevitable coming home on the bus from Bayonne that you think to yourself: One trophy later, is the appetite there for more or not. Is one medal really enough?

It’s not the defeat, it’s the manner of the performance that grates, as it would if it was twenty years ago in Munster red. The thing is we seldom lay down and rolled over for anyone back then. To get a project on the right track, there’s a specific mindset you are seeking, and the demand is that it becomes a culture. 

We don’t have to be at 90-100% to win some games in the Top 14. If we are 80%, the collective being eight out of ten, we win that game. What I can’t countenance seeping in is the type of attitude that has no place in a competitive environment much less a winning dressing room. It’s not a rugby problem, it’s an attitude issue and that’s very disappointing because I am responsible for that. 

I take that sort of defeat very badly.

We strive every day of our working lives to implement standards, to create a good environment and to achieve consistency of performance. I am not asking for the best game, but consistency of performance, irrespective of who plays.

NOT HAPPY: La Rochelle head coach Ronan O’Gara

THE core of this article is standards, not light switches: you can’t turn them on and off. It eats away at me all week and then I get to Thursday and I start looking ahead to Toulon this weekend and wonder if the grouch in me is being under-appreciative of the players across the hallway because when the gun has been put to their head, they’ve been awesome. 

But why wait for a Marseille moment? Who have I? Who am I coaching and what do they stand for? That’s what frustrates. If I was coaching a group of average Joes, fine, I know what I have and work accordingly within that framework. But don’t bring average attitude and sloppy application.

Two weeks on the bounce, the La Rochelle players have gone in at the interval trailing but where we could turn around a 16-7 deficit to Racing 92, we gift-wrapped Bayonne a pair of early second-half tries to put us to bed.

Individual errors are one thing. They happen. Poor attitude is a controllable, however. As the game went on, for the first time in quite a while, I was watching a team that did not appear to have that willingness to dig in, that was without energy and excitement around getting the ball, that was not running hard at the opposition – essentially doing none of the things that excited them to take up rugby in the first place. It appeared more about going through the motions and being seen to tick some boxes. Playing to keep the coaches happy, when in fact there was nothing whatsoever in the display or the attitude to be happy about.

In sport, one of the most under-appreciated tools is fear. When you don’t have that, and respect, it’s hard. You win the first three games of a new campaign after winning a European Cup, then went to Clermont and we were 13-13 with ten minutes to go. You can lose those games, but we got destroyed in Bayonne. We got humiliated.

So this week’s been tetchy. Some of our lads want the ball in space. Except that rugby isn’t just about getting the ball in space. Other people have to do stuff to make that happen. Both our front line out-halves are out injured at the moment so our game shape and direction isn’t as strong as it usually might be. We have to make allowances for that. Players can’t be throwing their toys out of the pram because of it. That’s not how life or sport works.

At the end of last season, we had to get rid of Facundo Bosch who, by the law that governs all such moves, had a stormer against us in Bayonne. This weekend we entertain Toulon which means last season’s colleagues Ihaia West, Jeremy Sinzelle and Danny Priso are back in town, as European champions. Are they going to outshine Setuini, Rhule or Paiva or whoever has replaced them in the corresponding positions here? You don’t want the replaced outdoing the replacements.

Every Top 14 game last weekend delivered a home win. In a sport where preservation of domestic pride and being lord of your own manner is fundamental, perhaps that is easy to overlook. But there are occasions when there is no good reason for that to happen, where it isn’t acceptable to conform to the norm.

In a few weeks, the league will move gears as the international contingent disappear for November. For the new signings, likes Ultan Dillane, that will be the opportunity to get feet under the table and get himself established in the systems and the line-up.

And it will be time for me to wind up the last suspension of my coaching career.

#Ronan #OGara #walking #talking #contradiction

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