Ronan O'Gara: Hardest part of Cup final week are the early conversations
Did you see Moneyball? Where Billy Beane, the Oakland A’s GM is tutoring his sidekick on how to break bad news to a player. ‘They’re professionals, just give it to them straight,” he advised. The last thing a player wants to hear in those circumstances is ‘you’re doing great, it’s just one of those things, keep it up’. It’s the one conversation where you are duty-bound to be as precise and brutal as necessary, where you leave no room for ambiguity and where all sides know exactly where they stand. The most important part of these difficult conversations from a coach’s point of view is taking ownership.
You are giving them horrible news but frequently it’s important to reinforce the opinion that I see a big future for him here. The thing I am struggling with still, however, are those boys on the bench who are disappointed and down and I am thinking we are not going to get the best out of them if they stay like that. I remember a while back Eddie Jones, the England head coach, chastising a reporter for querying why a particular player wasn’t starting. It looks like we will be minus our two All Blacks on Saturday in Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Victor Vito. Those tough conversations are made marginally more palatable by the fact that Saturdays’s Champions Cup decider isn’t the climax of La Rochelle’s season.
If there was one word that defined the Crusaders in my time there it is ‘culture’, the right type of culture, a positive affirmation of the good in people who work in a unified way towards a common goal. One of the lesser-acknowledged upsides of France’s Grad Slam success this year has been the lift it has given certain Top 14 groups like ours. Uini Atonio, our prop, has been with La Rochelle for a decade, but has never won anything. The three lads know what it’s like and what is possible when you are part of a progressive, inspiring unit.
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