Ireland Rugby: The Ronan O'Gara v Jonathan Sexton Debate
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Its debate time again!
This time we're tackling a more conventional issue opposed to the unique Lebron James vs Lionel Messi debate from before.
The conclusion of the 2011 Six Nations brought with it more questions than answers for Irish fans. Significantly Declan Kidney failed to settle on an out half as Jonathan Sexton started 3 games while Ronan O'Gara started 2. Each player replaced the other in every game also.
Irish rugby fans aren't too unfamiliar with this situation.
It was just over a decade ago when Ronan O'Gara earned his first International cap. At the time David Humphreys had been setting Ireland's back-line in motion for four years. The Ulster man wasn't too dissimilar in his style of play to Jonathan Sexton but as a 25 year old O'Gara was kicking all the points in a famous 18-9 victory over Australia, Humphreys was 6 years his senior and in the decline of his career.
There is an even greater gap between O'Gara and Sexton as O'Gara is now 34 and Sexton 25 in terms of age, but the standard of play couldn't be closer.
The Munster out half has aged way better than Humphreys ever did because of his style of play. O'Gara has never been able to run over a defender or outpace even a half decent open-side flanker, he has always relied on his boot and, critically, his brain.
Understanding of rugby doesn't deteriorate as you get older like your body does. If anything it gets better. O'Gara's experience and nous gives him a huge advantage over the less experienced Sexton.
Game management is the key to his game. O'Gara's forte is his kicking from hand and reliability when in front of goal. He has scored 1'006 points for his country and more than double that for Munster. He is as consistent as a kicker across the board as anyone else in world rugby whether it be drop goals, kicking from hand or garryowens.
He has been a mainstay in the Munster team that has dominated European rugby for the past decade relentlessly making his opposition turn backwards and play the game in their territory.
His composure in the biggest of moments is well documented with a Grand Slam winning drop goal for Ireland in Cardiff, a crucial conversion against Gloucester in the miracle match of 2003 for Munster and a combined 24 points in two Heineken cup finals to go with his winners' medals.
O'Gara is easily a world class out half and has notable advantages over Sexton as an overall kicker, a leader and for consistency.
Its impossible for me to say Sexton is the better option now isn't it?...
Not so much.
Jonathan Sexton SHOULD start for Ireland.
The Leinster man's all around game is better than his Irish compatriot. For all of Ronan O'Gara's positive kicking abilities he is limited as an attacking threat and struggles defensively.
O'Gara is a weak tackler while Sexton is able to hold up his own against international opposition. Managers don't have to worry about forwards running down the out half channel with Sexton opposed to O'Gara.
Even at provincial level, Munster have often moved O'Gara from first receiver to avoid having the opposition back rows running over him.
Sexton does not have the same defensive frailties. He is stronger and shows better tackling technique when wrapping up. His pace also makes it harder for players to get around him.
The 25 year old's speed makes him a more dangerous threat offensively also. Sexton is versatile in that he can take on his opposition as well as set his outside backs free depending on what the defensive line of the opposition shows him.
There are countless examples of Sexton successfully looping around his centers from the recent Six Nations campaign, at which time he is able to decide whether to take advantage of any gap available or look to play in one of his teammates. The difference between when Sexton decides to run with the ball is that he can actually escape defenders. O'Gara can make line breaks but must almost instantly look for a teammate because he is not a threat to take the ball to the line from distance.
Sexton finding himself in the channel between center and winger has quickly become one of the staples of the Irish team when he plays. That kind of move has been so successful because it plays to the strengths of the back line; taking advantage of Brian O'Driscoll's deft passing, or decoy running in midfield, before setting one of the talented wingers down the line.
The extra dimension of Sexton's game as a runner allows Declan Kidney to play more than just a 10 man rugby game based on field position.
There is nothing wrong with playing the Munster way but the more successful team as of today in Irish rugby is Leinster(Last team to win the Heineken Cup and remain in this years competition). The Irish pack is not good enough to dominate International opposition on a consistent basis. They need to play a balanced game. Sexton makes that possible.
Can you really justify leaving one of the greatest kickers to ever play rugby on the bench though?
Why not? Sexton is not a bad kicker. As of late he has struggled but not been disastrous. Remember that he scored pressure kicks and scored all the points in a 15-10 point victory over South Africa in only his second ever Irish appearance. Lest we not forget that he has also kicked a Heineken cup final winning penalty for Leinster, as well as the conversion to tie the game.
England have left an even better kicker, Johnny Wilkinson, on the bench in favour of Toby Flood and you're not going to tell me that you think Flood is a better player than Sexton, are you?
The major difference between these two players remains defensively however. Sexton may be a slightly worse kicker than O'Gara but he is a vastly better fit for an Irish team that is too talented to continue to just play for field position.
It is essentially a win-win situation for Ireland. Either player would bring a lot to the fold and any nation across the world would be delighted to have them in their squad.
I'm a Munster man born and bred, but I'm choosing Jonathan Sexton over Ronan O'Gara. Who do you prefer?
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