Associated two seasons with Stade Rochelais, the two technicians meet again this Saturday evening for a clash between Auvergnats and Maritimes who have still not won this season.
Three months ago, the two men lived together in La Rochelle. With Jono Gibbes as manager and Ronan O’Gara as head coach, the Maritimes had the best season in their history, reaching the final of the Champions Cup and then the Top 14. If these two highlights ended in two defeats against Stade Toulousain, the club of President Vincent Merling has entered the big leagues, in the closed circle of teams that matter and play the leading roles. The two technicians were not close, far from it, but they had found a form of balance, of cordial understanding, for the good of their team.
Three months later, Gibbes and O’Gara’s fates took a new turn. The New Zealander took control of Clermont after the long tenure of Franck Azéma, of whom he was deputy in 2014 and 2017, when the Irishman – passed through Racing 92 and the New Zealand Crusaders – became number 1 and sole responsible at the head of Stade Rochelais where he had already taken control of the game last year. The recognition of two talents, with different methods but with high ambitions.
Thus, Jono Gibbes did not hide that he was returning to Auvergne to win a new Brennus after those of 2010 and 2017. “My responsibility is to set very high standards. We have to be proud of our region and the history of the club, so we need a group that takes responsibility, he explained at the start of the season. The history of this club is big in French rugby and therefore my expectations are high for the group. I will also know how to take my responsibilities when necessary. ” After a failed start to the season with a setback at Lyon and a Michelin loss against Castres, Gibbes is already under pressure.
« We have a status to be found and assumed. »
The shortcomings displayed by the ASM are glaring. Lack of hardness in front and efficiency behind. Recurrent ailments in recent seasons. “We have a status to find and assume,” proclaimed international winger Damian Penaud. For the moment, the Clermontois are still showing feverishness. A time of adaptation was surely necessary to find new automatisms. The Auvergne club has bet on stability (which is perceived by some as a lack of ambition) by recruiting only two players: the rough Argentinian second-row Tomas Lavanini (who is currently playing in the Rugby Championship) and the Irish opener. JJ Hanrahan (Munster), who has already shown great things.
Except that time is already running out. And that the public in Clermont would scold after a second straight Michelin setback. Opposite is the Stade Rochelais, which also has problems to resolve. Especially a patent lack of efficiency in the brand areas, which were crippling against Toulouse and then against Racing 92.
« Maybe you have to lower the cursor, not be at 120% but be at 100% and raise the lucidity, the concentration and maybe we will get there. »
But the Rochelais do not want to worry too much. “The satisfaction is that mentally, in the commitment, we were there. A lack of precision, it takes training, but a lack of commitment, it’s harder to work “, says Captain Romain Sazy. For number 8 of the Blues Grégory Alldritt, “We want so much to put in energy, to give everything we have, that in fact it becomes messy. Maybe you have to lower the cursor, not be at 120% but be at 100% and raise your lucidity, concentration and maybe we’ll get there ”.
No delay in ignition, therefore, on the Rochelle side? If they were to sign a third game without a win, the Maritimes would have already given up valuable points and they would have to whip to get back into the lead. ASM, which comes out of a season far from its past standards (quarterback defeats in the Champions Cup and in the Top 14), does not have the right to make mistakes either. The trajectories of the two clubs seem to be reversed: La Rochelle has gained momentum, when Clermont has stalled. Confirmation Saturday at Michelin?