Jonny Sexton: Ronan O’Gara called me a ‘nobody’
Rugby star regrets how bad relationship with his former Ireland out-half rival became
JONNY SEXTON has revealed how he regrets how bad his relationship was with Ronan O’Gara when the pair where playing for Leinster and Munster.
“We got off on a bad footing. There was an edge between us. But there always is an edge between people who are competing for positions on the same team,” he said today.
“The media picked up on this rivalry and that’s the way it all started. The media made it bigger than it probably was but there was definitely an edge to it.
“My old man was a big Munster fan and thought he was best thing since sliced bread. I was always growing aspiring to play like him. I have always held him in the highest regard and respected what he has done – even if I didn’t always shown it.”
In an interview on RTE Radio this morning, he revealed that O’Gara called him a “nobody” after they clashed in Thomond Park in 2009.
“We got off on a bad footing. There was a bit of an argument between us. We exchanged words and things were said, as there often is in matches between Leinster and Munster. But in fairness, I probably said worse to him.
“In many ways he was right, because I was half trying to break into the Leinster team and he had done it all with Munster, Ireland and the Lions. In his mind, he was probably thinking, 'who is this guy and who does he think he is?'”
“With Ronan you have to earn his respect. He wouldn’t have respected me at that stage of my career.
“Brian O’Driscoll says that the reason why we clashed in the past and why we are such good friends now is because we are so similar. We have laughed about things since.”
He also revealed that his Ireland teammates were essential in breaking the ice between the two.
“When there is any tension between players in the Irish set up, the guys will highlight it very quickly and make a fool out of the both of you. Often there would be a spot free beside me and the lads would quickly make sure that we would sit together and make small chat.”
“I have always held him in a very high regard but I didn’t always show that.”
Sexton has revealed that he learned about O’Gara joining Racing Metro from Independent.ie
In his new book, 'Becoming a Lion', Sexton (28) writes that he was warming up for the Amlin Challenge Cup with Leinster last May when the news was confirmed.
“I found out around three hours before kick-off when I walked into the physio room and people started giggling. The Independent had confirmed it on Twitter – a two year deal, same as me...”
The outhalf also revealed today on Sean O'Rourke's show that O’Gara rang him
“I was delighted when he did. It is great to have a familiar face there that I can now call a friend – even though we have had our ups and downs in the past.
"We have spent a lot of time in the last couple of months. The relationship has been really good from a kicking point of view. The best thing about Ronan O’Gara is that he has been there and done that. But he has also had to learn lessons and it is great to have someone who can give you perspective on that."
Sexton also urged the IRFU to tie players like Jamie Heaslip and Sean O’Brien to long term contracts “before it gets messy”.
The Ireland outhalf, who moved from Leinster to play for Racing Metro at the start of this season, has said that the IRFU should ensure that the best home-grown talent stays in Ireland.
He said:“There are some very important players to Irish rugby who are out of contract at the end of the season. I hope they sit down with these guys and get it sorted before it gets messy. They could do it now before there are other clubs sniffing around. They could have done it a few weeks ago.”
Sexton said the players were simply looking for security with longer term contracts.
“The players just want security,” he said. “It’s a great thing as a player when you have security for another few years. In the summer time the players would take that security every day of the week.”
Even though some of the Irish players, like Heaslip and O’Brien are being linked with moves to French clubs, Sexton also revealed that he’s rather see them playing in Ireland.
“It might contradictory because I left to play elsewhere. But I hope guys like Jamie and Sean get tied into long term contracts in Ireland. Even if it was a possibly that they’d be joining the club that I am at. I’d still hope that they stay here. It’s better for Irish rugby if they stay here.”
In the wide ranging interview, Sexton also revealed that leaving Leinster “was the hardest decision I have ever had to make”.
“I was with Leinster from underage – seven years as a professional. It was not a decision that I made easily. Even when I did make the decision, I thought about it.
“When I decided to leave not only was I taking away a big part of my life but I was also taking away a big part of my wife Laura’s life. She came to Paris and had to give up her job. That sort of thing made the decision even harder. Obviously I felt guilty about breaking up the group that had been very settled. Being the first one to take the plunge is not easy.”
Sexton also revealed that he felt there was a certain lack of respect from the IRFU when it came to renegotiating his contract.
“The book was written at the time when things occurred. So it was my thought processes at the time. I don’t regret how I felt.
"The IRFU guys did what they felt was best for the IRFU. I did feel that I wanted to get it sorted but it wasn’t.
"They decided that they weren’t going to talk about contracts until November (2012) and that’s their prerogative .
"As a player, if you are out of contract at the end of the season, you are wondering ‘what if I get injured before the end of the season’, what will happen to me?’. So the ball wasn’t set in motion until after the November internationals.
“You have to have other options and that’s what I had to do. You always have a Plan B. Fintan [Drury - his agent] and myself identified four clubs. If you are going to leave a great club like Leinster, you want to go to another great club. We got two nos, a maybe and a firm yes. So once Racing Metro showed interest and we saw their facilities, that was that.”
Sexton said that he wasn’t sure that the IRFU believed that he would actually walk away from Irish rugby.
“Yeah, at the time I did feel taken for granted. I would have felt that why couldn’t they have come earlier with their best foot forward. Things could have been different. What happened, happened. I am not looking for the sympathy vote. I did what I thought was right.”
In the interview to promote his book, Sexton also revealed that he has plenty of sympathy for Brian O’Driscoll in the wake of his omission from the Lions squad for the final test.
“How I felt and how I had to act were two completely different things. I obvious felt for Brian and it was obviously really tough for him.”
“I am very close to Brian. I didn’t expect it to happen. We made it all about Brian for the second Test. We wanted to do it for him. When Sam (Warburton) got injured I just thought Brian would be captain and we will be giving him the send off that he deserves in a Lions jersey.
"But sport is pretty cruel sometimes and the coach made a decision that he thought was for the best. From a Leinster point of view, we wanted to show Brian we were disappointed for him but we had a job to do for the Lions.
“I remember in my early days when I would get picked for an Ireland game and out of the corner of my eye, I’d see some of the Munster guys consoling ROG and I’d think ‘does this guy even want me playing?’ So you have to be careful. I spoke to Brian privately and got on with Johnny Davis.”