DECRYPTION – Before facing each other this Saturday at the Stade de France, the two managers multiplied the small spades. But that’s not new…
It’s a clic little game. Saying that your opponent is the biggest, the most beautiful and the strongest. History to reverse the pressure, to remove the status of favorite to bring it to his rival. And it’s all profit: either you lose against the favorite, and that’s normal; or we knock down the favourite, and it’s a magnificent feat. Toulouse manager Ugo Mola put a coin in the machinelast week before the semi-final against Racing 92. He braided praise to the Stade Rochelais, crowned double European champion against the formidable Leinster, a team that had swept – unceremoniously – its own three times in four years. “When you engage in a competition, it is to win it. So when someone else does it, you’re always disappointed. But it may surprise you, we were supporters of La Rochelle! That this team is champion, it enhances our championship, our daily life and French know-how”, had entrusted the technician from Haut-Garonne.
Adding in stride: “I’m not jealous of people, but admiring when they do things well. There may be things to observe, because there may be things that we no longer do well. We were the scarecrow for a while, today it’s La Rochelle. The term was launched: “scarecrow”. He hosted the semi-finals in San Sebastián all weekend.
“There are plenty of unbearable guys on the sidelines and I am one of them”
The next day, same place, in the amphitheater of the Anoeta stadium, Ronan O’Gara was in turn in front of the press. Invited to react to the praises of Mola and to this famous status of“scarecrow”, his face froze and his response, scathing, rocketed: “It’s not interesting, Ugo Mola’s opinion on the Stade Rochelais team and its environment. It wasn’t interesting in the past, it’s not interesting now, and it won’t be interesting in the future. OK? I play against Bordeaux tomorrow (the Saturday), there are so many things to say, it is not possible that the name of Ugo Mola comes up in the discussion. THANKS.” The Irishman took a few minutes afterwards before relaxing.
It must be said that everything opposes the two managers. Their management, already: when Mola is more participatory, open to discussion and exchanges with his istants, O’Gara is more directive, more abrupt, even if he obviously knows how to delegate. Their results then. Winner of three French championship titles as a player (1994, 1995 and 1996) and an Heineken Cup (2016), Mola (12 selections in Blue) has only known success, on a bench, with the Reds and Black (Brennus 2019 and doubled in 2021), after spells in Castres, Brive (relegated) or Albi in Pro D2. After a brilliant career as an opener with Munster (H Cup 2006 and 2008) and the XV of Clover (he is still the best director of the Six Nations), “ROG” first proved himself as an istant coach, lifting the Brennus with Racing 92 in 2016 before winning Super Rugby with the New Zealand Crusaders in 2018 and 2019.And that between Toulouse and Rochelais does not date from last weekend. O’Gara surely has in a corner of his head the series of nine defeats in a row against Mola’s team, which only ended last January (30-7). Last weekend, the Toulouse manager handed over a ladle after qualifying for the final. “The notion of pleasure must nourish us on a daily basis. Beating the face of opposing teams is not necessarily what I like. Everyone will have understood who he was talking about.
“The best team in Europe with remarkable strength of character”
At the end of April 2022, the two men had already exchanged a few sweet words, in the middle of the match, during a victory for Haut-Garonne over the Maritimes at the Stadium (23-16). Images (but not sound) captured by Canal + cameras. On the waves of RMCMola had been questioned about a clash between Christophe Urios (at the time at UBB, now in Clermont) and Ronan O’Gara. “There are plenty of insufferable guys on the sidelines and I am one of them, he said. At some point, we are so pionate about this sport that sometimes we slip up humanly. But there is no death of man…”
Let’s say that the Rochelais did not fall into this little game of the so-called favorite, before a possible reunion in the final. Romain Sazy, the emblematic second-line who will play his last match, has thus swept aside the question on this little squabble. “It doesn’t concern me at all. I don’t pay attention to it,” he blurted out. Romain Carmignani, the coach of the maritime forwards, preferred to smile: “This rivalry was created by the press. I don’t want to argue about things that waste energy. But we are not fooled. That’s part of the thing. And whoever wins is often right…”
“Humility does not prevent ambition”
Before the final, the manager of the Rouge et Noir tried to defuse things. “Sometimes it is better to be silent and look like an idiot than to speak and in any case say things that would move away or leave no doubt on the subject. So I’m going to shut up, he said. I also know that it goes beyond communication, environments, communication coaches or mental preparation, and maybe the game wanted to be moved off the field. We will stay on the field.”
But that didn’t stop Ugo Mola from persisting and signing, repeating that the Maritimes were the big favorites to lift the Brennus. “With the help of time and rivalries forming, there are inevitably oppositions of style. We could compare the Stade Toulousain to a form of climate that is judged over a long period of time. We met Biarritz, Toulon, Stade Français and today it’s La Rochelle. Over a slightly shorter time, closer to the weather than to the climate“, he explained, underlining between the lines how much Toulouse is a great club while La Rochelle was still in Pro D2 ten years ago.
And to drive the point home:Nevertheless, their performance is formidable. The double championship title places them as arch favourites. It takes a great Stade Toulousain to beat La Rochelle. We have never hidden behind a favorite status. But there, we are going to play the best team in Europe with remarkable strength of character. It is not at all for discarding.»
In the corridors of the Anoeta stadium, La Rochelle president Vincent Merling was also invited last Saturday to give his opinion on this picrocholine squabble. “Do you want me to tell you who the scarecrow is? I don’t know. Scarecrow, does that mean scaring away adversity? Frankly, we are not a scarecrow”, he advanced. Before detailing: “We try to play winning rugby. If Toulouse fears us, so much the better but I don’t think it’s a scarecrow either. We are proud to be able to challenge Toulouse, it is something great for us to experience and we will go to the Stade de France with great pride and humility because humility does not prevent ambition.
Brice Dulin, the experienced back from La Rochelle, is not surprised by this little pre-match exchange. “I have seen the press conferences for a few years. And let it be Ugo (Mola) or his predecessor Guy (Noves), they quickly tend to return the ball to the opposing camp concerning the favorite, did he notice.It will be 50/50…”