Ronan O’Gara warns Edinburgh he’ll treat Euro tie as if he were playing Scotland
Ronan O’Gara has warned Edinburgh that La Rochelle will treat their Heineken Champions Cup clash as if it were a match against the Scotland national side.
The French club visit BT Murrayfield on Saturday night as rugby’s focus switches away from the international game and on to the European club competitions.
Edinburgh are back in the elite Champions Cup and have a tough opener against a team riding high in the Top 14. La Rochelle are two points clear of Toulouse at the top after winning eight of their first 11 matches.
By contrast, Edinburgh have struggled in the Pro14 but O’Gara, who is in his second season in charge, expects the capital side to be bolstered by the return of international players following the conclusion of the Autumn Nations Cup.
“Well, I suppose we have to get our mindset around it [being] like playing the Scottish national team,” said O’Gara, the former Ireland fly-half. “That’s the task, but that’s to be relished, I suppose.”
O’Gara has a bit of history with Scotland. Former Ireland coach Eddie O’Sullivan claimed a Scottish player – he didn’t say who - tried to “choke” the stand-off during a Six Nations match in 2007. Ten years later, on the eve of another Six Nations match between the sides, O’Gara said: “I hope Ireland hammer them because of the way Scotland behaved during the week.”
In the eyes of the Irishman, the Scots had been too mouthy and there was also bad blood from Glasgow supposedly targeting Conor Murray during a Champions Cup match with Munster earlier that year.
La Rochelle have experienced two campaigns previously in the Champions Cup. They reached the quarter-finals in 2017-18 and then finished third in their group last season, behind Exeter Chiefs and Glasgow. They beat the Warriors 12-7 at Scotstoun, however.
Edinburgh have been without 13 Scotland players during the early rounds of the Pro14, a source of frustration for head coach Richard Cockerill who has been forced to field inexperienced sides during the elongated international window.
It remains to be seen how many will return for Saturday but O’Gara expects a tough examination and suggested the Heineken Cup will be Cockerill’s main focus during a campaign in which the Pro14 play-offs already look out of reach.
“This is what Edinburgh, I suppose, base their whole season around, especially their home games in Europe, and their Test players will focus on the games for Scotland and also playing well for Edinburgh in these big games. So, they’ll have their objectives,” said O’Gara.
“For us, it’s relatively new. There’s a high level of excitement about this competition because the history for La Rochelle in the Champions Cup is only in its infancy. It’s very important that we continue to make progress.”
O’Gara has a rich personal history in the competition, winning it as a player with Munster in 2006 and 2008, and the tournament holds a special place in his heart.
“What a competition, it was everything,” he said. “It makes me incredibly proud, because I loved playing with the fellas I played with. I was a one-club man. It means a lot as a player, being a one-club man, and we gave it so many good attempts.”
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