Wednesday 26 June 2019

Johnny Sexton v Ronan O'Gara: Who is the Perfect 10? We rate Ireland's two leading out-halves of recent times

Ronan O'Gara and Jonathan Sexton
Ronan O'Gara and Jonathan Sexton

Des Berry

"He always wants to play a central role in the game, no matter how well or how badly he's playing or how big the pressure is."

Bernard Jackman could have just as easily been talking about Ronan O'Gara when The Dragons coach said this about Johnny Sexton.

Perhaps, it is now time to compare, contrast and even come to the conclusion that Sexton has surpassed the man that was once his hated rival and recently his close friend, his confidante and his coach.

There is no doubt that these Ireland legends are cut from the same cloth.

Even Brian O'Driscoll couldn't resist the temptation to pair Sexton and O'Gara together when it came to looking back at the drop goal that broke French hearts.

"It is those moments that he, literally, lives for," recalled O'Driscoll. "He wants as much pressure (as possible) and he wants the onus to be put on him.

"In the regard, he's very Jonny Wilkinson-esque and Rog too, to categorise all three of them together. They want to be able to excel in the most horrific of pressurised situations. That's their game."

While there is nothing to separate Sexton and O'Gara in their drive and will to win, they are two very different players.


There is simply no argument to be had here.

Sexton was brought up in the Blue of St Mary's College and Leinster where the philosophy had always been to attack first.

The King of the second touch is a creative force with his unrivalled passing and running game.

Cork Constitution's O'Gara was a game manager par excellence in how he manoeuvred Munster and Ireland around the field.

His greatest strength on attack was his decision-making and passing game which bore more fruit for Ireland than Munster. 

Advantage: Sexton


The size differential allied to the naturally aggressive nature of Sexton makes this the category in which there is the biggest gulf.

O'Gara has often spoken about his failure to impress in the gym. He was never one to pile on the muscle. At just over 13 stones, he was not a dominant defensive presence and David Wallace spent a large portion of his career as an unofficial minder for Munster and Ireland.

This is not to disparage O'Gara. He put his body on the line, without having the physical attributes to back it up.

Sexton thrives in the trenches. There isn't a more physical defender in the game. His penchant for targeting man-and-ball in the tackle has led to many questioning his upright technique.

Where opposition would have looked to run over O'Gara, they generally avoid this tactic against Sexton's choke tackle.  

Advantage: Sexton


This is O'Gara's speciality in that he had it all with a variety of tactical kicks that made him the best in the world for at least part of his career.

The beauty of his long and short game was supported by a cold-headed killer touch for the big occasion. Of course, the 2009 Grand Slam drop goal will live forever in the memories of those who witnessed it.  

But he had to fail before he succeeded, the 2000 Heineken Cup final penalty misses against Northampton Saints standing out for the 23-year-old.  

Sexton has had his failures too, like that missed kick that let the All Blacks off the hook in 2013. But he was at the helm when guiding Ireland to their first win over the All Blacks in Chicago.

The single-most impressive kick of his career happened last Saturday when he landed the greatest drop goal in the history of the game.

This area comes down to one simple question. If Ireland had a kick to win the World Cup, which would you rather see at the tee?

Advantage: O'Gara 


Sexton (32) still has two or three shots at capturing what would be Ireland's third Grand Slam.

This is his ninth Six Nations and there have been two Championships won in 2014 and 2015. 

O'Gara worked through 13 Six Nations campaigns which started with David Humhpreys for competition and ended with Sexton's emergence. 

It is a strange traditional quirk to this grand old competition that a clean sweep ranks so much higher than being listed as champions. There is an unfair argument that Sexton will never match Jack Kyle (1948) or O'Gara as long as he doesn't have a Grand Slam.  

Advantage: O'Gara


So how do outsiders view Ireland's best men? The best O'Gara could manage in three Lions tours was two appearances off the bench, against New Zealand in the third test in in 2005 and against South Africa in in 2009.

Sexton has been central to winning one tour against Australia in 2013, starting all three tests, and drawing another against the All Blacks in 2017.

It was on the latter tour that a first test defeat prompted coach Warren Gatland to recognise the error of his ways, starting Sexton in tests two and three where The Lions won and drew to square the series against the world champions.       

Advantage: Sexton


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