Without Dan Carter's influence, Ronan O'Gara may never have made the leap of faith to join the Crusaders this year.

Carter left the Crusaders for France over two years ago but his heart will always be red and black.

It should, therefore, be no surprise the All Blacks centurion played the role of middle man in offering O'Gara the chance to further his coaching career in New Zealand.

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O'Gara, the Irish and Munster great, spent the past four-and-a-half seasons overseeing, along with kicking and skills, Racing Metro's defence. He admits he initially struggled to grasp the end of his playing days. And only after 18 months did he begin to feel comfortable coaching.

Over the past two years O'Gara formed a genuine friendship with Carter, one that ultimately led him to the Crusaders management where he will now help guide Richie Mo'unga, the rookie All Blacks first five-eighth he describes as possessing an exceptional attitude and ability.

"The key for me is to try bring that out on a consistent basis," O'Gara said.

What started as a casual conversation with Crusaders forwards coach Jason Ryan while he was assessing the European way last November gradually evolved to Carter putting his recruitment hat on for his old team.

"Dan asked if I would ever go overseas and coach and I said 'yeah of course'. I didn't think anything of it and then a few weeks later he asked me again. He said 'there might be something potentially at the Crusaders if it interests you'.

"I tried to keep a straight face but I was obviously burning up with excitement underneath."

Meanwhile, back in New Zealand, Leon MacDonald confirmed he would move his family back to Blenheim, leaving the backs role open.

O'Gara met Scott Robertson, coaching the Barbarians with Robbie Deans at the time, in Dublin the week Ireland thrashed South Africa there.


"I got chatting to Ray. We had a few discussions and there was a good vibe between us. He said 'there's an opportunity there' and I said 'thanks, I'm coming'."

Originally contracted to Racing until 2019, the 40-year-old was granted an early release and revealed, at this stage, he has only penned a one-year deal with the Crusaders.

"It was easier for both parties to try it for one season and see how we go. I'll try hit the ground running and all that contractual stuff takes care of itself."

At Racing O'Gara worked with fellow former All Blacks Anthony Tuitavake, Joe Rokocoko and Chris Masoe. But it was Carter who provided the inspiration to move his wife and five children to an earthquake-troubled city on the other side of the world.

O'Gara and Carter have become close friends. Photo / Photosport
O'Gara and Carter have become close friends. Photo / Photosport

"He's an incredible competitor; he wants the best for the team and he challenges you. Once you build a relationship with him and you see how good he is at what he does you learn a lot. That makes you learn a lot about yourself and how you present and coach. It was such a valuable two years. That gave me the confidence to come here."

Settling in Christchurch three weeks ago, O'Gara has already experienced his first small (4.2 magnitude) 'quake.

"It was strange. It's different reading about it. It was very minor but for me, I wasn't sure whether I was dreaming because it woke me. It's a first anyway."

Since retiring O'Gara has, naturally, been linked with to a return to Munster. While he holds aspirations to one day graduate to international rugby with Ireland, re-joining the club he played over 200 games for does not appeal.

"I enjoyed playing in Munster but I don't think coaching the players you played with is a good idea. I didn't want that so there's not a big draw to ever go back there.

"If the opportunity with Ireland presents itself it's a different decision. At the minute I'm at a massive club with a big responsibility and something that really interests me. I enjoy the day-to-day coaching and interaction with the players and international rugby is very different. You need to be hugely experienced to do that and I'm not that."

With so many New Zealand coaches forced abroad due to limited opportunities at home, O'Gara is breaking the trend by going the other way and, potentially, setting an example others in the north may attempt to emulate.

Blues assistant Alistair Rogers, the former All Blacks analyst from Wales, is the only other foreign coach within the New Zealand Super Rugby ranks.

"It's a massive honour and hopefully a great reflection on Scott Robertson. He's a deep thinker on the game. He's given me an opportunity and it's up to me now to make the most of it.

"I wanted to come down here because I feel it's one of the best rugby clubs in the world. I've always admired the Crusaders. They're a club I've followed since I was a kid. I've watched their campaigns and never thought I'd end up here this soon.

"New Zealand is the best in the world at rugby so you need to get in here to test yourself against the best to be seen as a credible coach. That's essentially what I want to do here. I like competing; I like getting the best out of players and challenging myself.

"If you want to give a true opinion on something you've got to experience it yourself."

Crusaders assistant coach Ronan O'Gara. Photo / Photosport
Crusaders assistant coach Ronan O'Gara. Photo / Photosport

Southern hemisphere rugby represents a change in attitude for O'Gara with the game here largely dominated by an attacking mindset. He's already impressed by the skills on show, and remains confident he will add value.

"You have to play winter rugby, too. We saw that when the Lions came over. There's different ways of playing the game - one is not better than the other. Depending on the conditions and opposition it's important there's a few strings to your bow and that's exactly what we're trying to develop here."

Achieve that this season, and the Crusaders might owe Carter a beer.