As bait goes, this is a hefty grub.
Johnny Sexton and Peter O’Mahony look in their element, and never happier, at this World Cup, but one outspoken rugby sage has decided they have gotten ahead of themselves.
Gregor Paul is like the Kiwi version of Matt Williams or Stephen Jones – if you want a hot take or a controversial swerve, he’s your man.
Ahead of this weekend’s World Cup quarter final with New Zealand, Paul has written about an Ireland team that, in his opinion, are swanning around France in danger of falling deep into ‘a culture of entitlement’. In a quite pointed column, the veteran rugby writer has taken aim squarely at senior Irish figures Johnny Sexton and Peter O’Mahony.
Show this article to an Irish rugby fan from October 2016 – before Ireland won five of the next eight Test encounters – and they would need the smelling salts. Ireland the World No.1 top dogs and All Blacks as underdogs? It has been a wild seven years.
‘All Blacks don’t much care for the way Johnny Sexton conducts himself’
Scanning through Kiwi media, ahead of Ireland versus New Zealand, there is a healthy respect for this Ireland team, and their players. Outlets like Stuff and the New Zealand Herald run pieces quoting Dane Coles and Ian Foster, the All Blacks coach, stating Andy Farrell’s side are the best in the world.
Martin Devlin, on The Platform, has admitted he is scared witless ahead of Saturday’s encounter, in Paris, while Rugby Direct – a podcast on Newstalk ZB – features Elliott Smith and Liam Napier as they outline Ireland’s many strengths. The closest they come to a shot across the bow is a comment about Tadhg Furlong still being very good but perhaps not world’s best in his position any more.
Gregor Paul, though, can always be relied upon to plant his flag and get under the skin of the opposition. In his NZ Herald column, Paul takes a swift run at the Irish side getting too big for their boots.
What has fostered a growing sense of distrust in recent years, writes Paul, is the perception ‘that Ireland have become increasingly ungracious the more they have won’. Paul likens Ireland to an England side, led by captain Will Carling in the late 1980s and early 90s, that ‘were perceived as arrogant, often condescending to opponents, and a touch too fond of celebrating their own success’. He declares:
‘This Ireland team have perhaps become the new England, as their prolonged stretch as No 1 in the world rankings may be fostering a culture of entitlement.
‘Peter O’Mahony’s comments [about Scotland, on Saturday] lacked class and respect, while Johnny Sexton has seemingly come to see his status as the global game’s elder statesman and captain of the world’s best team as a licence to berate officials and belittle opponents.
‘He’s a brilliant player and a great leader – wonderfully articulate, too – but he’s often too eager in trying to get under opponents’ skin… Some may find his passion admirable and judge his behaviour a sign of his depth of commitment to win, but it’s obvious that the All Blacks may have the deepest respect for his talent, but they don’t much care for the way he conducts himself.’
Ahead of the Scotland game, Blair Kinghorn stated that his side were more than capable of ending Ireland’s winning streak at 16 games. O’Mahony latched onto those comments and observed, after his side’s 36-14 win, that ‘it didn’t work out too well’ for Scotland.
If O’Mahony is on the look-out for more bulletin board material, he has found it in the New Zealand Herald.
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