Ronan O’Gara: La Rochelle have it much tougher than Leinster after ’10-month slog’

Colin Newboult

La Rochelle head coach Ronan O’Gara has hit back at suggestions that Leinster will have a more difficult schedule heading into the Champions Cup final.

The Irish province overcame Toulouse 41-22 in their last-four contest on Saturday, which was their first of a series of play-off matches.

Leo Cullen’s men next take on the Sharks in the United Rugby Championship quarter-final before playing a semi-final prior to the Champions Cup showpiece event.

It is an intense end to the campaign for Leinster but only something La Rochelle have to face all season in the gruelling Top 14, according to O’Gara.

Two big league games before final

“You’d find this hard in your mindset, but the month Leinster have this month, we have it every month. I think you need to think about that a little bit,” he told BT Sport.

“It is 10 months of a slog. I have to get a team for Toulon, we play Montpellier, then we played Leinster.”

La Rochelle are currently in contention both domestically and in Europe, with them residing in second position in the Top 14.

French teams in the past have prioritised the league over the Champions Cup, but that is not the case for O’Gara’s side.

“It wasn’t like this a few years ago. You get buy in from your players, we’ve got a squad that can compete on both levels. That’s what you want, we’re passionate about it,” he said.

“We’ve had a go, we’re doing well in the Top 14 and we’re doing well in this. It can come together quite quickly, but it can also fall apart quite quickly.

“We’re very lucky in the fact that we have created a group that want to play for each other.

No underestimating Exeter

La Rochelle were clear favourites for the semi-final against Exeter Chiefs and they duly delivered, claiming a dominant 47-28 win, but O’Gara never once thought about a potential rematch with Leinster.

“You’ll find it hard to believe, but I haven’t thought about (the final). This was the last dance for Exeter today, I was hugely nervous about today’s game because I understand the culture and what they stand for. For me, it would be ludicrous to look beyond it,” he added.

“Sunday was a little bit different, because obviously you expect a game with supporters, but this blew me away. I think we savour that today and tomorrow, then we will make a plan for the future over a few beers.”

READ MORE: Two Cents Rugby picks his top five players of the Champions Cup semi-finals