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21st Sep 2023

‘It’s pretty fake if you think everything is going to be rosy’ – ROG on Johnny Sexton rivalry

Patrick McCarry

Ronan O'Gara

“What’s ingrained in my brain, at the minute, is how to beat Leinster. That’s the only thing I really care about.”

Following a scoring display against Tonga that saw him break the Ireland points record, Johnny Sexton was asked if he had received a message from his old Ireland jersey, and inter-provincial, rival, Ronan O’Gara.

Sexton answered that he had not checked his phone, before speaking with the press, before joking, “I’m not sure we’re speaking to each other after the European Cup.”

Sexton and O’Gara were among others that reportedly exchanged half-time barbs in the Aviva Stadium tunnel, during a Champions Cup final that saw the Cork native’s La Rochelle rally back to defeat Leinster for the second time in succession. There may have been some fractures in their relationship but O’Gara has spoken superbly about them one day not plotting to mess each other up.

Ronan O'GaraJohnny Sexton (left) and Ronan O’Gara. (Credit: Sportsfile & Rugbypass)

‘Probably, at the minute, it’s hate’ – Ronan O’Gara

During a compelling walk-and-talk interview with Jim Hamilton, over on Rugbypass, Ronan O’Gara spoke honestly about he is a touch conflicted about Ireland at this World Cup.

He feels immense pride at having represented Ireland for so long and would love to see his good friend Paul O’Connell involved in a World Cup-winning side. However, he explains he is so hell-bent on beating Leinster that when he sees the Ireland team play, he often just sees the players who he has spent so long plotting the downfall of.

Hamilton does his ‘house-keeping’ and asks where his relationship with Johnny Sexton stands. O’Gara mulls it over, then replies:

“Yeah, it’s been a love/hate, hate/love, hate/love. Probably, at the minute, it’s hate.

“That’s the right way – and we’ve chatted this through – because two into one don’t go. La Rochelle and Leinster don’t go… [the relationship] was well made up after that [Munster and Leinster rivalry] there were Ireland careers together and, sure, I coached him in Racing. That’s a coach-player relationship, and very different, obviously.

“No, there’s so many different layers to Johnny but there is a really good soul there. I’d like to think the same but, sometimes, perception isn’t reality with the two of them. Because you’re essentially responsible for your team, when you’re the 10, the boss or the goal-kicker and, in his case, the captain. You’re trying to drive the team.

“What has happened in the last few seasons has been the fact that we’ve come across them. So, he’s trying to drive his team, I’m trying to drive my team. It’s pretty fake if you think everything is going to be rosy. This is European Cups we’re talking about. This means a lot to an awful lot of people. There’s going to be, without anything controversial even happening, a difference of opinion on how you see things.

“I’m trying to mess him up. He’s trying to mess my team up. If you’ve got these two strong minds, it’s not going to be a period where you’re going to get on. But I think the most important thing is there will be huge respect there. You can park that and hopefully revisit it, as you’d appreciate that once you come out of that environment or your environment – your ball of stress and competitiveness – there’s a whole new world out there, and there will be many years afterwards where you can have a vin rouge [red wine] and bit of fromage [cheese] and chat through how crazy we were at that period.”

Ronan O’Gara also speaks well, during the interview, about how Ireland will be looking to play against South Africa, this weekend. Players 1 to 10 need to be right on the money to stand a winning chance, he feels, and short, sharp passing is key.

“If you play long pass, long pass against South Africa,” he warns, “they’ll eat you up with salt!”


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