O’Gara impressed by Munster as Racing get ‘schooled in every department’

RONAN O’GARA CUT a dejected figure as the dust settled at Stade Yves du Manoir on Saturday evening.

A good 45 minutes after his honest post-match TV interview, the former Munster out-half was still clearly feeling the pain of watching Racing 92 concede four tries in a 32-7 defeat on home soil.

O’Gara wore an Axel t-shirt throughout Saturday’s game. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Ever the gracious host, O’Gara waited patiently for the small group of Irish journalists to finish their interviews with Rassie Erasmus, Peter O’Mahony and a handful of Racing players.

Leaning against a window overlooking the darkened stadium, he was willing to front up to what had happened against his native province.

O’Gara had just spoken with his wife, Jessica, on the phone before the dictaphones started recording, and was able to summon a rueful smile as he recounted part of the conversation.

“My wife said to me, ‘You knew this morning you were going to get hammered’ and I said, ‘No, I didn’t!’ It’s just another day’s learning, that’s the reality of it.

O’Gara has been full of praise for Munster in recent times, with his column in the Irish Examiner last week just the latest example.

So for the 39-year-old, who is an assistant coach with Racing, it wasn’t a huge surprise to note the quality of the performance.

“I knew they would be good and watching them up close they were really good, yeah,” said O’Gara, his speech littered with thoughtful pauses, as always.

“They were really good. They’ve great detail in their game and the biggest thing that struck me was athletes in their prime against fellas that are in their 30s.

“You look at CJ Stander, Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray – he was a class above everyone else on the pitch I thought – and they just schooled us in every department really.”

O’Gara arrives at Stade Yves du Manoir on Saturday. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Racing and their coaching staff wore ‘Axel’ t-shirts during their warm-up on Saturday, but it was particularly poignant to see O’Gara emerge from the dressing room with his friend’s nickname emblazoned across his back.

O’Gara didn’t remove the memorial t-shirt during the game either, wearing the red garment as he watched Racing’s failure in some dismay.

It was a strange experience for Munster to return to the city where Anthony Foley passed away, and Paris will never be the same for this squad. O’Gara missed his old mate dearly this week, of course, although that was the same last week and the week before that.

“Of course, but I think that will remain, hopefully, for as long as I live,” said O’Gara. “I don’t think any of us look upon him in the past tense. The fact that I live here, you just expect to see him.

“You just expect to see these guys, so I don’t really have answers as to how to deal with that.”

Munster continue to be motivated by their memories of Foley and their desire to do him proud, with Saturday’s win just the latest tribute to the province’s former number eight and head coach.

That inspiration is a major element of what Munster are doing at present, but O’Gara is swift to point to the positive work being done by their coaching staff of Rassie Erasmus, Jacques Nienaber, Jerry Flannery, Felix Jones and everyone else in the backroom.

“There’s also some brilliant coaching,” said O’Gara. “Players were probably at a low and there was one way they could go, but they have gone the right way. Confidence is huge in sport. They are confident and competitive and they are very fit.

O’Gara had many great days at Thomond Park but is wary ahead of Racing’s trip. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“People underestimate how fit they are. You look at certain actions out there, like CJ charging the ball down and getting back to be the first receiver around the corner [for his try]; that’s big work rate and they play for each other, as Munster players always have.”

Are they good enough to win a European title? O’Gara points out that a home quarter-final looks likely now, and then Munster would be “160 minutes away from doing something,” but he hesitates to push their title claims.

“That’s putting them into a pressurised situation which they don’t need by me saying that.

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“I think one side of me says that 14 games ago they weren’t a good team, now they’re a very good team but they have to go again because Saracens, say, probably have more trust in the bank in them as a team in big pressurised occasions.”

Erasmus’ men march on towards Glasgow next weekend with their confidence lifted even further, while Racing face a dead rubber at home to Leicester Tigers.

The Parisians have zero match points from their four European games so far this season, and currently lie ninth in the Top 14 – having won the league last season and also reached the Champions Cup final.

“We need to have a full overhaul,” said O’Gara, who is very wary of what awaits Racing when they travel to Thomond Park for the final Pool 1 fixture on 21 January.

“It poses all kinds of questions because I know what it’s like. I don’t think anyone in the Racing dressing room realises what it could be like and there’s the capacity to put three times the score on what happened today. That’s the reality.”

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