Three-time Champions Cup winner Brian O’Driscoll thinks that the combination of Ronan O'Gara and Jono Gibbes could give La Rochelle a tactical edge against Toulouse.
La Rochelle are in a position to win their first ever Champions Cup title on Saturday, after defeating Leinster in the semi-final to face Toulouse at Twickenham.
With Gibbes and O'Gara at the helm, the former ProD2 champions have become one of the two best teams in the Top14, and indeed Europe, even if the pair do not always see eye-to-eye.
Speaking on Thursday’s Off The Ball, O’Driscoll explained how he thinks La Rochelle have been preparing for the final.
“The good coaches know that the hard graft and the detail work goes on in the early part of the week,” O’Driscoll said.
“Even before you get to the final, I am sure there will have been focus on Toulouse last week. You would anticipate that one of the days last week was focused towards Toulouse.
“That is the way that we would have operated under different coaches at different junctures throughout my career.
“Then you come in with something under your belt. It feels as though it is an easier week, there is less information to take on board, you have more clarity as to what you are trying to achieve.
O’Driscoll does not believe that there will be anything new spoken about in the lead-up to Saturday, as he feels that Gibbes will have put together plays already to break Toulouse.
“To be honest a lot of it now is focused on time off feet rather than running moves on field. They won’t be plucking too many plays from obscurity.
“There is no better man than Jono Gibbes to come up with plays, particularly lineout plays. He had a history of it in Leinster and we have seen it with La Rochelle.
“O'Gara will be adding his tuppence worth to that from an attack point of view. The last thing you want to do is bombard your team with more later in the week.”
The Champions Cup final is undoubtedly a major occasion for a professional rugby player in Europe, even more so for a team that has not won the title before.
While many will expect there to be Braveheart-esque speeches in the dressing rooms heading into the final, O’Driscoll believes that the players will not need much motivation.
“The occasion takes care of itself in finals,” O’Driscoll said. “You don’t need those rousing speeches, you don’t need people to reinforce how big it will be for you, your family, supporters and everybody at home.
“No one needs to hear that, because it is a final, and the carrot is there. Once you get to experience the occasion of a final, and you get a shot at doing something that no one has done in La Rochelle’s history… none of the pressure is really on them.
“The expectation is really all heaped on Toulouse to deliver. They are the ones chasing the first to have five titles now that Leinster are out. It is really a great position for Gibbes and O'Gara to be in.”
O'Gara and Gibbes are not perfect bed-fellows
The La Rochelle coaching set up will undergo a reshuffle at the end of this season, regardless of whether or not they win silverware.
Gibbes will be leaving for Clermont, allowing O'Gara to take over as head coach for the next three years.
O’Driscoll believes that, while they are a successful pairing, the reshuffle in the coaching ticket shows that Gibbes and O'Gara do not necessarily get on all the time.
“You would have to anticipate that it is not a perfect partnership,” O’Driscoll said. “The fact that Jono is going on to Clermont, that O'Gara is taking on the head job at La Rochelle.
“Why would you move from an environment that is clearly on the up, that is proving to be successful?
“I don’t know if everything is aligned between the two of them. They have clearly got huge respect for each other’s rugby knowledge.
“But anytime you look at the coaches’ box they don’t seem to be conversing very often, I looked up once and saw there was a bit of a heated argument between them but there is no harm in that.
“I just wonder, success paints over any cracks so maybe we will never know, but I just don’t know if it is a perfectly cohesive partnership otherwise they’d be both signing three-year extensions.”
Can you stop Toulouse’s Messi?
One of the biggest threats for Gibbes and O'Gara’s La Rochelle to deal with is the sensational Antoine Dupont.
O’Driscoll believes that La Rochelle will need to neutralise the scrumhalf if they have a hope of winning.
“He is someone who plays quite well on the back foot as well as the front foot and that is what makes him the great player that he is,” O’Driscoll said.
“He doesn’t need that armchair ride for him to find an opportunity to crack a defence. He will wait for his opportunity to find the necessary miss-match or find someone that is carrying a knock.
“We have talked so much about that stuff, but it is the rest of his game. The quality of his pass, his box-kicking and his exit kicking is really good.
“That is what you get from the best players around; on their day they are unmarkable, but when things aren’t going for them, they are still able to find something.”
O’Driscoll suggested that keeping Dupont out of the game is much easier said than done for La Rochelle.
“I haven’t [seen anyone keep Dupont quiet],” O’Driscoll said. “It is very hard to not speak about him… I compared him to our version of Messi two weekends ago, because that is what he is; he is a game-breaker.
“When crowds go back, he is worth the admission fee alone. If I was a young nine, I would literally just have player cam on him for the whole match.
“We are lucky that we are living in a time where he is playing some magnificent, magnificent rugby.
“He is a creator, exactly like Messi. Yes, he gets an awful lot of tries, but he is not selfish. He will throw that final pass; if there is a chance he might get in but a certainty that someone else will get in, he will throw the pass.”
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