La Gaceta De Mexico - O'Gara urges La Rochelle to 'get stuck into' old foe Sexton

O'Gara urges La Rochelle to 'get stuck into' old foe Sexton
O'Gara urges La Rochelle to 'get stuck into' old foe Sexton / Photo: © AFP/File

O'Gara urges La Rochelle to 'get stuck into' old foe Sexton

Ronan O'Gara's La Rochelle and the Leinster of Johnny Sexton meet in the European Champions Cup on Saturday, a sizzling sub-plot given the pair's history of intense rivalry, both in their battle for the Ireland fly-half shirt and as leaders of Irish provinces Munster and Leinster.

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Nine years Sexton's senior, O'Gara has moved successfully into coaching, transforming La Rochelle since he took over the Top 14 club after a coaching stint in Super Rugby with the Crusaders.

Sexton has arguably hit a purple patch in his playing career with Leinster, pure class refusing to desert him despite his 36 years.

O'Gara retired at the same age, but Sexton, in spite of a number of concussions, has committed himself to going on till the 2023 World Cup when he will be 38.

Although the pair had vastly differing playing styles, one thing they could agree upon was the value of the European Champions Cup.

"It's the pinnacle for us every year," Sexton said of the premier continental Cup.

"It's a fantastic competition, I love it," beamed O'Gara. "We feel very privileged to be the last two dancing."

Sexton, capped 105 times for Ireland and six times by the British and Irish Lions, has been part of a Leinster team that have already bagged four European titles (2009, 2011, 2012, 2018).

O'Gara, with 128 Irish caps and two for the Lions, was essential to Munster's European crowns in 2006 and 2008, and is seeking to become only the second person after current Leinster boss Leo Cullen to win the crown as player and coach.

"I don't think about those things," O'Gara said when asked about potentially winning the Cup as coach.

"I've got a good group here, boys who've bought into the dream of competing on all fronts.

"We've had many downs, losing two finals is desperately disappointing, but it took me six years as a player to win one.

"We enjoy the journey: the Top 14 is a big marathon, the Champions Cup a sprint."

- No time for a coffee -

Sexton said O'Gara had texted him to ask him out for a coffee, but the Leinster playmaker revealed he had turned him down.

"The times didn't allow, very busy today," Sexton said with a wry grin.

O'Gara chuckled as he added: "I think he's happy his hotel was not near mine because he wasn't too keen on the coffee!"

Joking aside, O'Gara was full of praise for his old adversary.

"When you come out of playing days, you see the game a little bit differently," he said.

"I've experienced every emotion with Johnny. I respect him a lot. I enjoy his mindset and I enjoy how he goes about his business.

"He's going to be 37 in July, that's some achievement.

"We need to get stuck into him -- that's the biggest compliment I can give him."

Sexton also credited O'Gara with helping mould La Rochelle into a very dangerous outfit.

"He's done a fantastic job with them," he said. "They're a team to be reckoned with."

Sexton said Leinster, who were knocked out of last season's Cup semi-finals by La Rochelle, were desperate to pull level with Toulouse, who victory in 2021 saw them notch up five European crowns.

"We want to be recognised as one of best teams in Europe. Obviously we are with four stars," he said. A fifth star "would be a big milestone for the club, fantastic for us".

Standing in the way of Sexton, and Leinster, will be La Rochelle's free-flowing, off-loading gameplan implemented by O'Gara

"We can own the ball, Johnny will have less of it, that's what we want to try and do."