Esteemed Irish Rugby journalist Gerry Thornley has shed new light on the alleged altercation between La Rochelle head coach and Leinster coach Sean O’Brien.
Writing in the Irish Times, Thornley said “The seeds of the row appear to have been sewn at last year’s final, when Ronan O’Gara approached the match official.”
On that day in Marseille, experienced English referee Wayne Barnes was in charge of proceedings. It is alleged that O’Gara approached him to air some grievances he had about how the first half unfolded.
La Rochelle would go on to take control of proceedings in the second half and ultimately won with a try in the last minute of the game.
A year later and Leinster appeared to be ready for O’Gara and had assistant coach Sean O’Brien stationed in the tunnel to intercept the La Rochelle boss before he could approach Jaco Peyper.
Thornley wrote, “Mindful of that, it is understood that one of the Leinster assistant coaches, Sean O’Brien, was stationed inside the tunnel before the end of the first-half to prevent O’Gara approaching Peyper. The Leinster dressing-room was nearer those of the match officials than the La Rochelle dressing-room.”
As I understand it there was an incident in the tunnel around the referee’s room involving Ronan O’Gara, Sean O’Brien, Johnny Sexton and Will Skelton among others https://t.co/5NO1DZhxNr
— Rúaidhrí O’Connor (@RuaidhriOC) May 20, 2023
The scuffle between the former Irish teammates reportedly spilled over with La Rochelle secondrow Will Skelton and injured Leinster captain Jonathan Sexton becoming involved.
By all accounts the incident lasted no longer than thirty seconds in which time a few choice words were exchanged.
Summing up the event Thornley reported, “Reports then vary as to whether O’Gara was prevented from speaking with Peyper by his former Irish team-mate or was politely rebuffed by the South African officials.
“Either way, O’Gara and O’Brien, had a verbal spat and others joined in, including several from La Rochelle – with reports again varying as to whether Will Skelton was part of the row – and Johnny Sexton, who seemingly also briefly exchanged words with O’Gara before the matter ended. The episode apparently lasted 30 seconds at most.”
Aware of the incident, the organising authorities at European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) released a statement saying, “EPCR will be investigating this as soon as practicable”. But most likely, nothing will come of the incident, especially if there was little or no exchange with the match officials, and it’s possible that O’Brien’s intervention with O’Gara prevented that from happening.”
The @staderochelais coaches with an all-time celebration in the coaches’ box! #LEIvLAR #staderochelais #heinekenchampionscup pic.twitter.com/eTEHM4Wfky
— FloRugby (@FloRugby) May 20, 2023