Bernard Jackman credits La Rochelle’s rise to Ronan O’Gara’s influence

O'Gara

La Rochelle’s improvement in recent years is a “testament” to Ronan O’Gara and Jono Gibbes, according to Bernard Jackman.

O’Gara’s side will play Leinster in their first-ever Heineken Champions Cup semi-final on Sunday and currently sit in second place in the Top 14, behind reigning champions Toulouse.

The French side have hit new heights under head coach O’Gara and director of rugby Jono Gibbes, leading Jackman to praise the coaching duo on the RTE Rugby podcast.

“This La Rochelle team, I would say is testament to Jono Gibbes and Ronan O’Gara,” Jackman said.

“They’ve taken it from being a seventh to eighth team in the Top 14 to being a top of the table [side] and semi-finalists in Europe.”

‘They have a huge front five and a very powerful pack.’

La Rochelle will hope to again create history this weekend by booking their place in the Champions Cup final with a win over four-time European champions Leinster.

Leinster are the slight favourites going into the match but will be without captain Johnny Sexton after the 2018 World Rugby player of the year was ruled out due to a head injury.

While the French side often employ an entertaining, attacking style of rugby, Jackman believes La Rochelle may rely more heavily on their forwards this Sunday in what could prove to be a bruising encounter.

“I think when Jono and ROG look at Leinster, if they can put a squeeze on them up front – and they have a huge front five and a very powerful pack in general – and even though they do play a high tempo, offloading game a lot in the Top 14, I’ve been able to see them vary that and just rely on playing a lot through the forwards,” Jackman explained.

“So do you leave Ryan Baird on the bench to bring an impact and start with a warrior like Fardy or do you just get him on from the start?

“I personally think Fardy has a role to play this weekend. I know he’s retiring but he’s still a good operator and they need to make sure that they don’t take a backwards step against this La Rochelle pack.”

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