Being England head coach is one of rugby’s coveted jobs, so Brian O’Driscoll can sympathize with Ronan O’Gara saying he would be more than open to the gig.
Leinster legend O’Driscoll has previously advised his former international team-mate to reach the pinnacle of coaching and said last year that jobs in Munster and Ireland could one day be within his reach. The England rumors come at a time when starter Eddie Jones is under immense pressure and will apparently be replaced after the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
It means England fans face a wait even if O’Gara were to be offered the job, one O’Driscoll concedes would be “hard to turn down”. Ireland’s most capped player of all time says the sheer size of the Premiership player pool makes working in England “very exciting, very appealing”, but there’s such a thing as bad timing.
O’Gara has barely started his career as a head coach, having taken up his first senior role at La Rochelle in 2019 before being named in charge of their rugby operation last year. And yet, the former fly-half is drawing major plaudits as an emerging mastermind, ushering in ties to even the most high-profile roles in the trade.
The tactician himself is partly responsible for the recent flurry of rumors surrounding the England job. When asked on a recent appearance on BT Sport if he would be open to managing England, O’Gara described the gig as a “great job”, adding “there’s so much potential there- There are serious rugby players, a serious passion for the game in England, it’s a great job, you would like to try that.
It’s the sort of date that may sound like music to some fans’ ears given O’Gara’s brand of progressive rugby compared to England’s sometimes laborious approach en route to a second consecutive defeat of the Six Nations. La Rochelle played in two finals last season, now sitting third in the Top 14 and having scored 59 tries, just behind Clermont’s 60, while only defending champions Toulouse have a better defence.
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“I think that he [O’Gara] could suit any environment,” O’Driscoll said. Sports mirror when asked if his former comrade would be suitable as leader of England. Just as is the case with the players, however, he questioned whether the Cork-bred talent – with whom he ventured on three British and Irish Lions tours – was “internationally ready”. [level].”
“It’s his first [year as a chief decision-maker] with La Rochelle,” added the 43-year-old. “We also have to remember that. You have to be careful how much you speed someone up; it didn’t work well for [former Leicester-turned-England head coach] Martin Johnson.”
It’s a fair point considering Johnson held similar legendary status as an England player before failing to replicate that success during a three-year tenure as coach, which ended after a disappointing 2011 Rugby World Cup campaign. He replaced Brian Ashton – who managed England and Ireland – in 2008 despite having no experience as a head coach.
There can be a certain sense of betrayal when the prospect of an Irish legend taking over England arises. The two countries have long shared a heated rivalry, and an Irishman has never held the top job in English rugby.
These allegiances “disappear the day you retire” as a player, however, as O’Driscoll assured, the focus then shifts to getting the best position possible. “Then it’s about the best jobs, with the best teams, the best environments and the best cultures”, with England certainly in that elite bracket.
In any case, La Rochelle have secured O’Gara’s services on a contract running until 2024, and he doesn’t seem one to go back on a deal. The 45-year-old faces one of the toughest tests of his coaching career so far in the knockout stages of this year’s Champions Cup, where La Rochelle will face fellow French top flight Bordeaux .
However, it feels like a matter of when and not if bigger opportunities present themselves, and those familiar with his methods are confident he’ll be ready when they do.
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