O'Gara v Sexton: The back and forth over the years

It’s the rivalry-turned-partnership-turned-friendship-turned-whatever-it-is-now that, for a time, transfixed Irish sport...
O'Gara v Sexton: The back and forth over the years

Johnny Sexton & Ronan O'Gara. Photo(s): Sportsfile / Inpho

It’s the rivalry-turned-partnership-turned-friendship-turned-whatever-it-is-now that, for a time, transfixed Irish sport and also spawned the most terrifying Breakfast Club deep fake edit we’ve ever seen.

The story of Ronan O’Gara and Johnny Sexton began in earnest on a May afternoon in 2009 and, 13 years later, doesn’t show any signs of ending. Here’s a quick look at the intertwined journey of these two iconic No.10s in 10 of their more memorable quotes about one another… 

“Our relationship started badly…I can still picture Johnny standing over me screaming when they scored a try – clearly a release of frustration. Aside from having to wait for his chance with Leinster, I’d most definitely said something to him as well. It’s a pity I don’t recall what I said to fire him up, but as we all know now, it doesn’t take much.” — O’Gara, with typical understatement in those first four words, before elaborating on that iconic first skirmish during the Leinster-Munster Heineken Cup semi-final at Croke Park.

“It’s one of the regrets I have in my career. It didn’t show the respect I had for him. I was just a young kid chasing him, aspiring to be like him. A lot of the Munster players said they respected me afterwards for it because it was a very Munster thing to do. So it was probably the little bit of Kerry in me that got me into trouble.” 

— Sexton, seven years on from the scream in 2016, wishing the exuberance of youth hadn’t been quite so exuberant.

“Six months ago he wasn’t first choice for his club, now he is parachuted into the scene, so fair play to him in that regard. Let’s see what happens come Six Nations time.” — O’Gara, not quite warmly welcoming Sexton to the Six Nations fold in 2010 in the wake of the Leinster man’s stellar Autumn performances in green.

“Typically, Deccie landed the two of us in a room together when the tension was at its height. I just said to myself, ‘Oh my God, is this for real?’ I’d imagine it was worse for Johnny because I was more senior. When we were forced to room share, I don’t think he even stayed in the room….Not even the Pope would have mended things at that stage.” — O’Gara on how the early years in Ireland camp weren’t the smoothest.

“We went through phases. We spent a hell of a lot of time in Irish camp, just the two of us going kicking every Wednesday. It started off with me looking out one window, him looking out the other, no words being spoken. We never sat down and sorted it out. Men don’t do that. We just bottle it up and eventually it will sort itself out and it did.” — Sexton with a ringing endorsement of traditional male coping mechanisms.

“I found out around three hours before kick-off when I walked into the physio room and people started giggling. The Independent had confirmed it on Twitter – a two-year deal, same as me… Then I heard it from the horse’s mouth. He sent me a picture of himself and Monsieur Lorenzetti, shaking hands, big smiles! He’s a gas man.” 

— Sexton, on how he discovered that he’d be joined on his adventure in Paris in 2013 by that familiar face.

“Johnny and I have now become the odd couple in Paris. Laura, his wife, feels like she gets pushed to the side when I’m around. It’s funny in the way that the whole thing has gone full circle. It takes two to tango and by God did I tango with him and he tangoed with me but that’s what you want. I’ve no problem saying I need his company big time in Racing.” — O’Gara on things coming full circle in the City of Love.

"You know who has been stand-out for me? Cian Healy.” — O’Gara when asked in late 2019 to name Ireland’s player of the decade, proving that the Paris effect had worn off somewhat. 

“I got some great advice recently. When you’re leading in an orchestra, you’ve got to turn your back on the audience. I thought ROG was coaching at La Rochelle, I don’t know why he’s talking about us.” — Sexton after O’Gara had suggested the Ireland captaincy was weighing heavily on him in the wake of a 2020 Six Nations defeat to England. 

“I did send him a text. I felt for him. It hit me because I know how much of a competitor he is. We have had our differences over the years, most definitely, but we had a lovely few years in Paris together that was hugely enjoyable. I have had periods of strong contact and periods where you wouldn’t be in contact, but there is an awful lot of respect there.” — O’Gara in the wake of Sexton’s omission from the Lions squad last summer

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