Legendary Ireland kicker Ronan O’Gara has laid bare just how difficult Johnny Sexton’s task is when it comes to juggling responsibilities in this year’s Guinness Six Nations.
O’Gara, who won Rugby’s Greatest Championship with a Grand Slam in 2009, holds the record for the most points for his country, notching 1,083 of them in a green jersey – over 1,000 of which came from the boot.
And though the former fly-half eventually learned to manage the pressures of expectations around his kicking duties – famously splitting the posts with a drop goal to seal the title against Wales in 2009 – the 42-year-old says that Sexton’s ability to balance responsibilities with the boot alongside those of the captaincy truly marks out the current skipper.
“It took me a long time. There was many a game where, six points down in a game you’re thinking ‘please don’t score’ because that means I have to take this conversion,” he told Virgin Media One.
“I put everything into kicking, had a warped mind, because I just felt that that’s your responsibility. With time, you’re just hoping you’re two points down in the last 10 minutes of a game.
“That’s why Johnny has so much on his plate as a captain. He has everything and he’s the boss on the pitch.
“In my day, I wasn’t asked, when I was with Paulie (Paul O’Connor). With Paulie, he has such presence and is a massive figure in the team – a bigger presence than I have, which is necessary, because you’re human and when you’ve missed your last one and you’re five metres from the touch-line [you think] ‘no Paulie, we have a great line-out drive’!”
With 23 points to his name so far in this year’s Championship, Sexton has been the most prolific scorer after two Rounds of rugby, helping Ireland to second in the overall standings.
But without the guidance of stalwart skipper Rory Best, O’Gara underlined the importance of Sexton’s lieutenants when it comes to managing their new captain’s workload.
“No matter how experienced you are and how good you are as a player, everyone loves a little pat on the back. If you’re a 100-Test Irish player, you still need it,” he continued.
“That’s where your Tadhg Furlong and James Ryan just go ‘Johnny we need you, you’re Roy of the Rovers for us, knock it over’.
“For me it’s the fascinating thing: you’re playing an individual sport in a team sport and you get to love it, but at the same time it’s squeaky bum time.”