Ex-Ireland fly-half Ronan Gara said France are “building something special” ahead of next year’s Rugby World Cup before his former side head to Paris in the Six Nations this weekend.
O’Gara, 44, retired in 2013 and now coaches La Rochelle in the French Top 14.
On the Atlantic coast he is in charge of two Les Bleus squad members, No. 8 Gregory Alldritt and prop Uini Atonio, who were also present for November’s impressive victory over New Zealand.
They are set to be key figures for their country before hosting the tournament in a little over 18 months’ time.
“France are building something special for the World Cup,” O’Gara told AFP while on a break in the Pyrenees.
“The two very important players to La Rochelle and it’s the biggest compliment is that when they’re not in the team, we’re a different team.
“It will be interesting to see how the game pans out,” he added.
The former Munster playmaker, Ireland’s highest point scorer, sandwiched two Super Rugby titles at the Crusaders between his role at La Rochelle and coaching Racing 92’s backs to the Top 14 in 2016.
Last season he took his current side to the European Champions Cup and Top 14 finals, losing both to Toulouse.
He is among a crop of Irish coaches working in the French top-flight including Mike Prendergast at Racing, Jeremy Davidson with Brive and James Coughlan at Toulon.
“It’s the fact there are four provinces in Ireland,” O’Gara said.
“Usually, when you play for those provinces you don’t have a huge liking for the others. You couldn’t just go to the other provinces because the coaching staffs are pretty locked up.
“To go to coach in Ireland you have a high very standard because of the quality of the teams,” he added.
Captaining France this weekend will be world player of the year, Antoine Dupont, who helped guide Toulouse to the European and domestic double over O’Gara’s outfit.
“I’ve lost two finals to him so I haven’t stopped him,” O’Gara said.
“I actually think he’s the most dangerous player around as he thrives in structured play and unstructured.
“There’s never a moment you can switch off against him,” he added.
This weekend, O’Gara’s successor in the Ireland No. 10 shirt, Johnny Sexton, will miss the fixture due to a hamstring injury.
Munster’s Joey Carbery will start at outside-half to make just his 29th Test appearance in a young career disturbed by various injuries.
“It accelerates the development of the team as you’re going to a big game without him,” O’Gara said.
“I was shocked to hear that it’s Joey Carbery’s first Six Nations start so that’s tough and he hasn’t had much rugby this season so it’s difficult for him.
“He’s a guy with exceptional talent. Nothing beats minutes in the saddle at that age.”
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