A farewell to two legends of the international game

In one day, the world of rugby bid farewell to two of its greatest fly-halves as Johnny Sexton and Dan Biggar played their final games of Test rugby.

In one day, the world of rugby bid farewell to two of its greatest fly-halves as Johnny Sexton and Dan Biggar played their final games of Test rugby.

Ireland skipper Sexton is hanging up his boots for good after this Rugby World Cup, while Biggar will continue for club side Toulon.

And on quarter-final weekend in France, the pair saw their World Cup dreams fall short in agonising fashion, Ireland edged out by New Zealand in a thriller in Paris, a matter of hours after Argentina had come from behind to beat Wales 29-17 in Marseille.

It means that there will not be one final meeting of two of the Northern Hemisphere’s greatest fly-halves, who between them have won seven Guinness Six Nations titles, three Grand Slams and each racked up more than 100 caps for their respective countries.

Sexton has been synonymous with Ireland’s rise to the top of the world rankings, going into their quarter-final on a run of 17 successive victories, including Grand Slam glory earlier this year.

At 38, he was looking to add the only piece of silverware missing from his collection. Despite a slow start, with New Zealand racing into a 13-0 lead, Ireland fought back.

They got to within a point of the All Blacks with 15 minutes to go, with their opponents down to 14 men after a penalty try and sin-bin for Codie Taylor.

However, it was as close as they got. An interminable passage finally ended in a Sam Whitelock turnover penalty in his own 22 as New Zealand held on.

There were parallels to one of Sexton’s most memorable moments as a player – arguably his greatest ever. That also came at the Stade de France, five years ago, when Ireland went through 41 phases before Sexton slotted a long-range drop goal to beat France and set his side on their way to Grand Slam glory.

There was to be no fairytale finish this time around, but it does not detract from an incredible career. Sexton will go down as one of Ireland’s greatest-ever players, perhaps even the greatest, and said after the game that this is the best team he has been a part of.

His agony came a matter of hours after Biggar had seen the curtain come down on his own international career.

The Wales fly-half has been the heartbeat of the team for more than a decade and gave it everything in Marseille, including scoring the opening try. At that stage, it seemed that Wales would get back to the semi-finals for the third time in four tournaments, leading 10-0 after 20 minutes.

But Argentina were able to fight back, kicking their way into the lead before Tomos Williams put Wales back in front.

Joel Sclavi’s try gave Argentina the advantage once more, and they never looked back. Biggar was forced to watch on from the sidelines in the final five minutes, having spent much of the second half limping with injury.

As with Sexton, his contributions with Wales will not go unnoticed. In fact, Biggar’s legacy may only be fully realised in the coming months. In a country where the No.10 jersey holds such a special place, Biggar has deservedly taken his place among the greatest to have worn it.

For Sexton and Biggar, this is the end of the road. But what a road.