Johnny Sexton is Ireland’s Tom Brady according to Jamie Heaslip, who believes that the Ireland skipper will not give up his starting fly-half jersey any time soon.
Now 36, Sexton is the oldest member of the Ireland squad that was named today for the 2022 Guinness Six Nations and will look to claim a fourth Championship title this year.
And for Heaslip, his long-time teammate with Ireland and Leinster and now a pundit with RTÉ, the closest comparison to Sexton is NFL quarterback Tom Brady, winner of a record seven Super Bowls and widely regarded as the greatest of all time to have played American Football.
“Johnny is head and shoulders above everyone else,” said Heaslip, speaking on the day that an historic partnership between RTÉ and Virgin Media Television was announced, bringing all of the 2022 Guinness Six Nations Rugby action, free-to-air for Irish sports fans.
“Jack Carty has to take the opportunity if he gets it, there’s a lot of other guys sniffing around. But for me Johnny is the goat, he’s not going anywhere. He’s the Tom Brady of the IRFU right now. He’s not going to give up that jersey. He’s head and shoulders and everyone else has to step up.”
Alan Quinlan, a pundit for Virgin Media, agreed, while backing Connacht fly-half Carty to back up Sexton.
He said: “Johnny Sexton is not giving up the jersey and we saw in November how good his performances were and how important he still is to this team.
“I think it has to be Jack Carty at this stage (on the bench), because his form has been exceptional. What happened at the World Cup, there was a bit of hangover there and it affected his confidence and ability.
“It’s obviously a real pivotal position and I think the way he has played in the last few months has been really, really exciting. He’s grown his game and has more control to his game and looks to have the confidence and bit of excitement you need back.”
As well as Sexton, Heaslip is excited at watching the progress of Caelan Doris, one of Ireland’s standout performers in the Autumn Nations Series as they won three matches from three including a convincing win over the All Blacks.
Heaslip said: “Caelan Doris, I’m really excited to see him. He’s got a bit of international experience under his belt.
“I’m really excited to see him come into his own and kick on and really see what he’s made of. Now that he’s put down a marker, teams will be giving him a bit more attention, a lot more reviewing of him will be going on of him behind the scenes.”
And while Heaslip believes Ireland go into the Championship as second favourites, both he and Quinlan tipped the same team to lift the trophy on Super Saturday.
Quinlan said: “The obvious candidates are France and England always. Ireland won a Grand Slam in 2018 by going to Paris and Twickenham and winning. Will that happen again? It’s a tall order.
“If they can bring the same level of performance and start by winning the first game against Wales, get off to a good start and get a bit of momentum, they can be in the mix.
“But for me, it’s France. They have three home games, they start with Italy, then they’ve got Ireland, with England to finish. If they can get it right, what we saw from them in November and last year as well, they are really building something so they are my favourites.”
Heaslip added: “I’ll say France are my favourite to win, the way they are playing, the youth they have in the squad and the hunger and energy around that. I think that will be a big plus for them. Their clubs are going well, although Ireland are probably second favourites. Our clubs are going really well, all four look like they will qualify for Europe potentially.
“England is an interesting proposition because Eddie has done what he did for the last World Cup, 18 months out he culls the squad, brings a lot of new faces in, lights a fire under a lot of people. It will be interesting to see how they react to that.
“Ireland, you get the sense speaking to some of the players that there is something going on with this group. If they get off to a good start, that’s all you need. If you get the first two games out of the way and you have two wins under your belt, that’s a lot of momentum going into that break.”
RTÉ and Virgin Media Television today announced details of its historic partnership to bring all of the 2022 Guinness Six Nations Rugby action, free-to-air for Irish sports fans. Coverage will include all matches from the men’s, women’s and Under-20 Championships.