Ronan O'Gara is an eternal dissatisfied, a true perfectionist. After the stunning victory in the final of the Champions Cup against Leinster (27-26) where his troops had been led 17-0 after only 12 minutes, the Irish technician pointed out what was wrong. Inevitably, this failed start (even if it was overturned) did not suit him. What he explained before challenging Bordeaux-Bègles, Saturday (17h), in the second semi-final of the Top 14: "The goal for a final is to come back with a Cup but there were imperfections. Tomorrow is the next step to improve what we didn't do well in Dublin where we were too undisciplined and not precise enough with the ball.»
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And the manager of Stade Rochelais continues: "We can not just make forwards, make bad passes, hit directly in touch. The goal is to progress and be better afterwards." Grégory Alldritt, the captain and bulldozer of the Maritimes, points out that "Ronan took over the European Cup final and showed us that we did not have a great game in the end, that we had left a lot of opportunities on the way and that we could have even higher standards." While stressing that, "thanks to Ronan, we managed to change our mentality and win two European championship titles. Even today, it brings us the will to always dream bigger and a double potential. It takes a lot of work.»
"We didn't spend 15 days in cotton with only praise from Ronan"
By necessity, the people of La Rochelle have now changed their status, their dimension. Their two feats against Leinster made an impression. And they can achieve a historic double European Cup-championship only achieved by Toulouse (1996 and 2021) and Toulon (2014). Ronan O'Gara has set the scene, his troops still have two "finals" to play: this half against UBB and a possible final at the Stade de France. For this Saturday's match, they are big favorites against Girondins who have had a more than chaotic season.
We have this label of favorites, but, as soon as we are between us during the week, we get out of all this media pressure, "says Pierre Bourgarit. Even if the international hooker readily admits that his team now has a different status to assume. "It's different compared to other semi-finals where we were the little one who wanted to take down the big guy. Today, we are the big one that the little ones want to shoot down. We try to approach this match, not without pressure, but without bad pressure.»
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Unlike last year, President Vincent Merling's players were ideally able to prepare for the final sprint in both competitions. Second in the regular season, they avoided the play-off, which had been fatal to them twelve months ago against Toulouse (33-28) after their first European title. This year, the Maritimes want to strike a big blow. Making history. "We are at a crossroads. Either we are happy with what we did in Dublin, or we will attack, insists Ronan O'Gara. That's the goal: don't stop. The season is far from over in my head. We are very fresh. We're just at the beginning.»
"To be respected, you have to have medals, you have two. It's not enough."
An ambition shared by Grégory Alldritt: "Yes, we are favourites. After that, everything we have, we worked very hard to get it. We didn't spend 15 days in cotton with nothing but praise from Ronan. We also had a little questioning to know where we could progress. We are far from being the perfect team. We do not take the big head because we read that we are favorite. On Saturday, we will have to be even better than we have been all season.»
We will have to raise our standards, we will have to be better than we have been in previous matches, "agrees Pierre Bourgarit. One thing is certain: Ronan O'Gara, who addressed a tackle to Ugo Mola who had praised the quality of his work, does not intend to stop there. "Maybe we're favourites because of the things we've done in the past. But what matters is what we do tomorrow, and we are very hungry." Before warning his future opponents: "To be respected, you have to have medals. We have two. It's not enough...»