Ronan O’Gara has revealed that he had to have a few harsh words with giant La Rochelle lock Will Skelton over his fitness levels earlier in the season.
Skelton has been one of La Rochelle’s best performers this season and he put in a particularly impressive showing against Leinster in their recent Heineken Champions Cup semi-final.
La Rochelle head coach O’Gara was speaking to Off The Ball after his side’s narrow loss to Toulouse in Saturday’s Champions Cup final and admitted he has had to criticise a number of players for their lack of fitness.
“I think sometimes you can see early stages in a project what is glaringly obvious,” O’Gara said of some of his players’ lack of fitness.
“Mind you, the conditions were 33 degrees. I was extremely harsh to pick out Uini Antonio, Lopeti [Timani] and Will [Skelton] because they are all minimum 130 kilos.
“They are fast-twitch fibre athletes and on a day like that there was a lot of up and back the pitches.
“The positive for me was the way that Will took that because that could have been a turning point where he says ‘He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.’ He has changed a lot, and it is a pleasure being around people as motivated as him.”
‘I’d lost the plot in the changing room.’
O’Gara often takes a detailed, educational approach when it comes to dealing with his players but he admitted that he was anything but that when it came to critiquing the sizeable trio’s fitness.
While he didn’t exactly take a gentle approach when raising his concerns, O’Gara believes the La Rochelle trio responded well to his explosive criticism, which was made apparent by their relentless 80-minute performance against Leinster.
“You’re making it out like this is calm and measured, I’d lost the plot in the changing room,” O’Gara admitted.
“I’ve done it a few times but that was one of the times where it was probably match-day three of the season and you could see that this team has potential but if we want to be serious then we need to prioritise getting some of our forwards fitter.
“But they have taken it on really well, I can’t speak highly enough of them. You only have to look at the Leinster game where we were still going hard with 14 men at the end. Mentally and physically, that really pleases me.”
While La Rochelle ultimately came up short in their bid for European glory against Toulouse, they played remarkably well given the fact that they were down to 14 men for the majority of the match following Levani Botia’s red card in the 28th minute.
La Rochelle are still in with a great chance of silverware this season, as they currently sit in second place in the Top 14 table with two games to go.
Should they remain in the top two, they will book their spot in the Top 14 semi-final, and could come up against Toulouse again in their final game of the season.