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26th Jan 2022

“It’s hard not to respect Johnny, even if you don’t like him!” – Dan Biggar

Patrick McCarry

Dan Biggar

“There may be one or two cross words exchanged between us next Saturday.”

Barring another Lazarus-like return to rugby action from Alun Wyn Jones [Wayne Pivac remarks ‘Never say never’], next Saturday will see Dan Biggar captain Wales against Ireland.

The Welsh are reigning champions, coming into the Six Nations, but are riddled with injuries. The likes of Jones, Talupe Faletau, Leigh Halfpenny, Ken Owens, Josh Navidi and several other senior stars are out. Seven of the current squad have five caps or less.

Pivac, the Wales head coach, is thankful he can call on an experienced like such as Biggar to lead the team out in the opening game of their title defence. That game is against an Ireland side on an eight-game winning streak and led by and old foe, and friend, of Biggar’s – Johnny Sexton.

They pair have been sparring partners, and on-field goaders, for over a decade now. They have clashed on duty for their clubs and countries, and it was not until the 2017 British & Irish Lions Tour to New Zealand that they had a social breakthrough. As Seán O’Brien recalled on House of Rugby:

“It was funny because himself and Johnny would, obviously, have had a rattle at each other, lots of times on the pitch, and gave each other a few verbals. But they were actually the best of friends when we got on the piss!

“It was hilarious. We had these two grumpy f***s roaring and shouting at you, at training. Giving you these devil eyes and basically looking at you, and going, ‘Don’t do that again. That’s s**t!’ And when you get them outside, off the pitch, you have great craic with them. The two boys were like two peas in a pod, going around and bossing us around the place.”

Dan Biggar

Dan Biggar on his relationship with Johnny Sexton

Before the captains of the six teams were split up for media briefings, at today’s Six Nations launch, Johnny Sexton and Dan Biggar were asked about their often fractious history.

“I’m sure now that Dan is captain, he will be calm and collected, like myself,” Sexton remarked.

“There may be one or two cross words exchanged between us next Saturday,” Biggar admitted.

In a later press huddle, sitting alongside his coach, Dan Biggar spoke of the enormous respect he has for the Leinster and Ireland outhalf.

“The respect for Johnny has been there from day one. The way he came into the Ireland squad, it’s hard not to respect him – even if you don’t like him!

“But, from my end, I’ve kept in touch with him from 2017. You learn a lot more outside of a rugby environment and we get on really well. We’re similar characters. There’s a lot of similarities and that shows in the respect we have for each other.

“He’s operating at a high level at a decent age. He’s key for Ireland. If we sit off him, we’ll be in trouble.”

There was one question that got a rise out of the otherwise laid-back Sexton, during his media rotations with Ireland coach Andy Farrell.

The Welsh regions are not setting the United Rugby Championship alight, and all from Ospreys, Scarlets and Cardiff failed to reach the Champions Cup knock-out stages. Asked if that harmed Wales’ chances for the Six Nations, Sexton lit up.

“To be honest, there’s no correlation between that how the Six Nations starts,” he began.

“I can remember having this exact same conversation about five years ago when the Irish provinces were flying and the Welsh regions were struggling. They beat us.

“There’s no correlation between international performance and provincial. When we come into the Ireland camp, we put on our Irish jersey and we’re one team. We leave our provinces at the door. We go about preparing to face the reigning champions.

“I’m a bit surprised by the question, given they had such a great Six Nations last year, being a couple of minutes away from winning a Grand Slam, and had a good November as well. We’re playing the champions so that’s what we have in our mind.”

Sexton is long enough in the game to know how Welsh players can shed poor club form, and results, when they slip on that red jersey.

With England away to Scotland on the same opening weekend, the winners of that and the Ireland vs. Wales game will be the likely challengers, along with favourites France.

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