La Rochelle (AFP)

Landed this summer in La Rochelle to replace Xavier Garbajosa, Irish coach Ronan O'Gara is slow to find the right formula to revive the Maritimes visibly troubled before the trip to England to Sale for the second day of the European Cup.

We left the Rochelais at the beginning of June in Bordeaux semi-finalists of the Top 14 against Toulouse, future champion. We found them this season rather solid at home (4 wins in 4 league games) but much less outside (5 defeats in 5 games), 9th in the Top 14 after 9 games.

Then this weekend, the English club Exeter arrived at the opening of the European Cup. Result: a 12-31 defeat and latent flaws highlighted.

By entrusting the sporting director, Jono Gibbes, with his appointment as head coach O'Gara, a legendary opener from Ireland (128 caps) and 42-year-old Munster, who has learned the job at Racing, the objective of the leaders of La Rochelle was to definitively close the Collazo-Garbajosa era and their glorious legacy (semi-finals of the Top 14 in 2017 and 2019, final of the Challenge Cup last season).

It's up to them to write a new page with a new operation, new methods, to meet new expectations at the level of the game first, then results in the medium term.

"It's a different management, a different culture and it's very interesting," explains the 3rd line Kevin Gourdon, "we have a very special way of working, I would say." It's Anglo-Saxon, it's is more in the precision, it is more framed ".

- End of cycle ? -

"Ronan (O'Gara) asks the players to take up this challenge, but in a positive way, the video sessions are always interesting," says Gibbes, who oversees the entire building and calls on his men "the rigor "to assimilate the subtleties of the O'Gara coach. "His experience in the Champions Cup will be really valuable for this group," the New Zealander prognosticates.

Except this ambitious project, the group of Rochelais really struggles to grab it. The revolution is running slowly. The licked, effective and often spectacular game that had been its strength for years, disappeared from radar, leaving room for disturbing blunders, bad choices and chronic indiscipline.

"Eighteen or twenty balls dropped in the Top 14 is too much, but in the Champions Cup it's worse, it's unplayable," said the second line Romain Sazy after the loss to Exeter. we have a lot of rubbish, it will soon have to be corrected. "

Marcel-Deflandre stadium, one wonders if the changes imposed by the Irish are not too radical. "Ronan has put in place a defensive system that is completely different from what was practiced until now," said Gibbes, "I think the players are joining the project and they have responded very positively, and if they did not understand us, they would not continue. to work for each other ".

Reassuringly, the pillar Arthur Joly believes that it is especially time that is lacking in the Maritimes to assimilate and correct their mistakes.

However, the idea of ​​a group arriving at the end of the race, mentally worn, also seems to make its way. During the offseason, La Rochelle injected little new blood with only three arrivals. The club has also left a dozen players in the expectation, one year from the end of their contract.

Winger Vincent Rattez, who will join Garbajosa in Montpellier next season, has promised to give everything for the Yellow and Black until the end of the season.

© 2019 AFP