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No coffee catch-up for legendary no 10s as ROG says La Rochelle must "get stuck into" Johnny Sexton

Irish Mirror logo Irish Mirror 27/05/2022 Michael Scully
Head Coach Ronan O'Gara walks past a giant poster of Johnny Sexton ahead of La Rochelle's Captain's Run at the Orange Velodrome in Marseille © INPHO/James Crombie Head Coach Ronan O'Gara walks past a giant poster of Johnny Sexton ahead of La Rochelle's Captain's Run at the Orange Velodrome in Marseille

Ronan O'Gara reckons Johnny Sexton was happy to turn down his invite to coffee ahead of their epic head to head encounter in Marseille tomorrow.

And the La Rochelle head coach insists his team must get "stuck into" the veteran Leinster captain if they're to avoid losing European club rugby's biggest game for the second year on the spin.

“He texted me," said Sexton. "He just asked if I wanted to meet for coffee but the times didn’t allow. I'm very busy today!".

"But look, he's done a fantastic job with them.

"Fair play to him, getting to three finals in a row, that's a great achievement with a team that historically wasn't a powerhouse in France but someone like Jono Gibbes needs to take huge credit for that as well, for the work that he's done over the last couple of years.

"We know him well obviously.

"So yeah, they're a team to be reckoned with and they obviously knocked out us out last year, so that's all our focus.

"Myself and ROG, I don't even know how to think about that considering I'm a player and he's a coach.

"I thought the (Felipe) Contepomi clash would have been more interesting, to be honest. And I don't think they've been in touch!"

Having began their relationship as bitter rivals for the Ireland no 10 jersey and in opposite camps with Munster and Leinster, the duo found common ground and became firm friends when they both ended up at Racing in Paris - Sexton as the club's new star out-half, O'Gara as defence coach in his first role after hanging up his boots.

They remain close, but obviously not that close this week with the Heineken Champions Cup trophy on offer at the Stade Velodrome tomorrow.

“I don’t have an hour, genuinely to explain what he’s good at," said O'Gara, who was speaking at the pre-match press conference at the stadium.

"I think when you come out of your playing days, you see the game a little bit differently, you see the importance of relationships, you see the importance of enjoying the journey - a lot of people I enjoyed it with aren’t around anymore, they passed away unfortunately.

"So you’ve got to be reminded we’re in a great place, you’ve got to be able to enjoy tomorrow.

"I’ve experienced every emotion with Johnny and I respect him a lot. I enjoy his mindset, and I enjoy how he goes about his business.

"I think he’s happier that his hotel wasn’t near mine because he wasn’t too keen on the coffee.

"It is easier when you don’t have to…I can drink coke tomorrow or drink water, the boys have got to suffer on both teams and they’ve got to prepare mentally, and I’ve got to prepare mentally as the coach, that’s for certain.

"But he’s going to be 37 in July and that’s some achievement to be playing the way he is at the minute.

"We need to get stuck into him, that’s the biggest compliment I can give him because I think they play differently when he’s on the pitch."

Meanwhile, O'Gara admits it is a "massive boost" that his giant second row lock Will Skelton is playing against a Leinster side unchanged from their impressive semi-final victory over Toulouse.

Skelton made his return from injury in the final 15 minutes of last week's vital Top 14 victory for La Rochelle against Stade Francais and has been named to start.

The Aussie has been on the winning side against Leinster for Saracens - in the 2019 final and 2020 quarter-final - and for La Rochelle in last year's semi-final.

"I don’t think you can overestimate what he will do for our team," said O'Gara.

"There are very few players in the world like him.

"It’s been a really careful plan to try and get it to this stage.

"It’s delicate when you have a frame like he has and unique calf muscles like he has but he is ready to go.

“Obviously he is shy on game time but he is a serious professional, hidden behind working in the shade behind the scenes so it is a massive boost for our team."

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