JOE talks to Ronan O'Gara about Munster's Champions Cup hopes, Racing Metro and Jonny Sexton
We caught up with the former Ireland and Munster legend to chat about all things rugby...
We're very excited here in JOE Towers as we're fast approaching the first big weekend of the rugby calender as the new European Champions Cup kicks off on Friday night.
The three Irish provinces are in action with Munster away to Sale, Leinster at home to Wasps and Ulster on the road against Leicester Tigers. One man who will have an eye on proceedings on the Munster game at the AJ Bell Stadium is Ronan O'Gara.
The former Reds out-half is currently preparing his current employers, Racing Metro, for their opener with Northampton Saints but he took time out of his busy schedule to speak to us today.
We spoke to ROG about Munster's progress so far under Anthony Foley, Conor Murray's dominance, their chances of going all the way, Racing Metro and their president Jack Lorenzetti as well as Jonny Sexton's state of mind after deciding to return to Leinster.
O'Gara on... Munster under Anthony Foley
"I suppose the most important thing is that he knows exactly how he wants to play and any success Munster will have will be dependent on how well Anthony and the coaching staff get that message across.
"The plan seems to be very simple but very effective and that sort of reflects the way Anthony played himself, doing the right thing at the right time. I think he will demand success out of his players and hopefully he will get it."
O'Gara on... the role Conor Murray now has in the team
"There's big responsibility on Conor and that suits the team because he is such a top player and he's getting better. Conor can run, he can kick, he can pass, he has all the attributes.
"It'll be interesting to see if he has as much influence going forward or if he was only given that job for the Leinster game because he wasn't as dominant in the three previous games. I think Leinster were susceptible around the ruck so it'll be interesting to see what happens going forward."
O'Gara on... Munster's pool of Clermont, Sale and Saracens
"I think at times Clermont are exceptional and at times not so exceptional, like when they lost 51-21 to Bordeaux a few weeks ago. Clermont are a good team and they've added an interesting dynamic with Camille Lopez.
"But at that stage Munster could be two out of two either way so they have to take it one game at a time and Axel knows that as well as anyone."
O'Gara on... whether Munster have the quality of player to go all the way
"I think it's an important point that Axel isn't working with the calibre of player that was around in the so-called "dominant years" but there's plenty of lads putting their hand up.
"The starting 15 will be really strong, their strength in depth if there's a few injuries would worry me a little bit, but you can take for granted that their attitude and motivation levels will be right.
"They have two exceptional leaders in Paul O'Connell and Peter O'Mahony and with Murray dictating, they're very strong pillars of the team so everything is possible with that."
O'Gara on... the feeling around Racing Metro ahead of their opener against Northampton
"Yeah, there's real excitement around the place this week. The goal is to get out of the pool, it's never been achieved so the Racing president Jacky Lorenzetti wants that and has put out a rallying cry this week. That's our objective, to make history by getting out of the pool and that'll either be alive or dead on Saturday night."
O'Gara on... what it's like working under such an outspoken president like Jacky Lorenzetti
"I suppose after being there for a while, you kind of get used of it. I suppose the big thing is that he's the guy forking out all the money for these players and without him there's no Racing so he wants his product seen at European level, not just French level.
"I wouldn't have a close relationship with him, I see him but I'm the third coach so unless he has a direct interest in something, say, to do with Jonny Sexton he might come to me but he usually deals with the two Laurents (Habit and Travers).
O'Gara on... how Jonny Sexton has been since he confirmed he's coming back to Leinster
"He's an awful lot happier because his decision is made, he knows what he's doing and his mind is clear. I think it was better for everybody that the decision was made early and it's not going to dilute his performances for Racing, that's not in his nature.
"It was probably good that he got an injury because now he's coming back fresh ready to attack a six or seven month block where he can hopefully help us win something."
O'Gara on... whether he tried to get Sexton to stay in Paris
"No I didn't try and convince him, he just told me what he was thinking. There's a human side to all of this as well and you have to understand that. I think he's making a logical decision for himself.
"People realise he's from Dublin and he wants to play with Leinster and you have to fully appreciate that."
O'Gara... on Ian Madigan's future at Leinster with Sexton's imminent return
I"t's hard to talk about because Madigan and Jimmy Gopperth are being chopped and changed and any 10 will tell you that they love game time in that position so they can learn from their mistakes and improve. But the coach (Matt O'Connor) wants results and he feels he might get better results or performance with Gopperth so you have to respect that.
"It's hard to comment on next season because Jonny was out on his own with Leinster before and now he's coming back and with his game management, he will be there so Ian Madigan has a decision to make about what he wants in rugby.