Sunday 17 December 2017

English paper selects Johnny Sexton over Ronan O'Gara for all-time European rugby team

Seven Irish internationals make the starting fifteen while three more Irish provincial stars named on the replacements bench.

Jonathan Sexton of Racing Metro, and assistant coach Ronan O'Gara
Jonathan Sexton of Racing Metro, and assistant coach Ronan O'Gara Newsdesk Newsdesk

With the 20th European rugby final upon us this weekend, The Guardian has attempted to put together an all-time dream team. Seven Irishmen are selected, with Ronan O'Gara the most notable absentee.

Toulon and Clermont will do battle in Twickenham this weekend, 19 years on from Toulouse's extra-time defat of Cardiff in front of 21,800 spectators at the Cardiff Arms Park.

The competition has undergone huge changes over the past two decades, most notably financially and in name, so picking a team is a very difficult task indeed.

Robert Kitson plumped for seven Irish internationals, Geordan Murphy, Brian O'Driscoll, Jonathan Sexton, Cian Healy, plus the Munster trio of Paul O'Connell, David Wallace and Anthony Foley.

One glaring omission is former Munster out-half Ronan O'Gara, who is joined on the bench by John Hayes and Ulster's Springbok Ruan Pienaar.

Two-time winner O'Gara was in 2010 named as the best player in the 15-year history of the Heineken Cup, but three-time winner and former Ireland team-mate Sexton has been given the nod.

Kitson admits it was a difficult decision, with other high-profile players also missing out.

"How can you reject such distinguished modern fly-halves as Jones, Ronan O’Gara, Jonny Wilkinson, Felipe Contepomi, David Humphreys, Alex King and Diego Domínguez without feeling genuine pangs of guilt," he writes.

"At least O’Gara makes the bench, which is something. His tally of 1,365 points in the tournament is so far out in front it may never be beaten."

Geordan Murphy's "all-round footballing skills" ensures he gets the number 15 jersey ahead of the likes of Clément Poitrenaud, Isa Nacewa and Nicolas Brusque, while O'Driscoll and O'Connell could "hardly be left out".

Anthony Foley is lauded for his leadership skills and incredible haul of 23 tries, with fellow backrower David Wallace is singled out appearing in four European finals.

"Even Neil Back, Thierry Dusautoir, Sean O’Brien, Steffon Armitage, Julien Bonnaire, Juan Smith and Brive’s fine Polish international Gregory Kacala cannot claim that."

It is a polished looking side and an incredibly powerful replacements bench.

Euro XV: Geordan Murphy (Leicester); Sitiveni Sivivatu (Clermont Auvergne), Brian O’Driscoll (Leinster), Matt Giteau (Toulon), Vincent Clerc (Toulouse); Jonathan Sexton (Leinster/Racing Métro), Philippe Carbonneau (Toulouse/Brive); Cian Healy (Leinster), Trevor Leota (Wasps), Carl Hayman (Toulon), Martin Johnson (Leicester), Paul O’Connell (Munster), Rocky Elsom (Leinster), David Wallace (Munster), Anthony Foley (Munster).

Replacements: Raphaël Ibañez (Wasps), Graham Rowntree (Leicester), John Hayes (Munster), Simon Shaw (Wasps), Juan Martin Fernández-Lobbe (Toulon), Ruan Pienaar (Ulster), Ronan O’Gara (Munster), Wesley Fofana (Clermont Auvergne)

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