2022 – Johnny Sexton and Ronan O’Gara test the competition to the limit in the Champions Cup Final | Champion Cup

FForget the week-long Cannes Film Festival. If people want to enjoy the sweeping drama, all they have to do is venture down the Mediterranean coast to the Stade VĂ©lodrome, where a Shakespeare-style duel awaits. For Romeo and Tybalt, read Johnny Sexton and Ronan O’Gara.

Because while the Champions Cup final is nominally taking place between Leinster and La Rochelle on Saturday afternoon, there should be a twinkling neon sign off the floor with the slogan: ‘When Johnny Met ROG’. Two great Irish No. 10 players, two of the strongest rugby players, only one podium.

The sport is full of classic rivalries, but former Irish teammate Brian O’Driscoll laughs out loud when asked if O’Gara, who was formerly the coach of Munster and now coach of La Rochelle, has a personal motive, Sexton and his teammate excel at the impressive thing. Leinster.

“Of course,” O’Driscoll snored. “He’s a competitor. All rugby players have egos. Nobody wants someone else to be seen as better or more successful. That’s the reality and if you say otherwise you’re an outright liar. You can be sure it’s going to be a motivator.”

In the case of O’Gara and Sexton, there was a distinct advantage because they were competing for the same Irish No. 10 jersey. There’s also this famous photo from the 2009 European semi-final between Leinster and Munster where the younger Sexton ran up to his fallen opponent as the game turned in the boys’ favour. Who wear blue uniforms. For a while, the two of them did everything they could to avoid each other. As O’Gara once said, it was “the hardest relationship I’ve ever had with a player.”

When the two were working at Racing 92 in Paris, the permafrost was thawing a bit and O’Gara texted Sexton suggesting they have coffee together in Marseille on Friday. However, the timing was unsuccessful, allowing both men to focus on the task at hand. After a fruitful stint with the Crusaders in New Zealand, 45-year-old O’Jara’s reputation as a top coach has been revived by reaching three major finals with La Rochelle in 12 months. Meanwhile, Sexton continues to defy the laws of rugby’s attraction and appears more confident than ever in the smoothly functioning Leinster machine controls.

Johnny Sexton was trained by O’Gara during her time with Racing 92. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images

“Playstation Rugby” was the smart referee in a French newspaper after Leinster was sent off the lead against Toulouse in the semi-finals. On paper, it looks like a short odds bet for a fifth European title, save for the crucial caveat that O’Gara knows from the inside out. In the semi-finals last year, La Rochelle expanded his strength and won 32:23 in the absence of the injured sexton. O’Gara has a vague idea of ​​how Sexton would be thinking now: “I definitely understand Johnny’s mindset. He’s a competitor and that’s the understatement of the season. I think he was also motivated by the fact that he didn’t participate in the Lions Tour last year. It would have hurt him badly.”

Here’s another reason why O’Driscoll is jokingly rubbing his hands ahead of this weekend’s rematch. “If promote [O’Gara] When the question is asked, I’m sure he’ll answer right away but of course Johnny doesn’t want to get five [European titles]. Johnny has four and he has three [two with Munster and one with La Rochelle] He would feel more fair about Rogue. As far as La Rochelle’s first Heineken Cup victory is concerned, it is also about stopping a Leinster side who have risen to a level that, I dare say, even Monster would be jealous of.”

The next generation also looks promising, with O’Driscoll’s eldest son Billy playing on the same junior St. Mary’s rugby team as Seven-year-old Sexton. It prompted O’Driscoll to share a parental gag at lunch recently—”I said I was preparing my son to accompany Luca Sexton by scolding him for his lack of perfection at every opportunity”—but it was both parents who enjoyed the experience. O’Driscoll estimates that at about age 37, Sexton is just as content as he once was. “He has balance now and real comfort. He seems to be really enjoying every game and the quality of the training at Leinster.

“What makes guys retire in their mid-30s is the separation from their team. When it comes home to babies and diapers, what do you have in common with 21-year-old Snapchatters? It’s that and losing your power. But it doesn’t seem like he’s lost anything.” He seems to have more time on the ball now and is happier to hold it longer. But he’s still dead and not encouraged by those late shots. I really think he’s doing a better job.”

Another big fan is Stuart Lancaster, whose influence on Leinster’s rise should not be underestimated. “Johnny has many qualities that I really admire. The first is his competitiveness and his desire to win and to hold everyone accountable to the standards they expect of themselves. He is also a student in the game [but] Probably its highlight is its ability to see the image a split second before others. Which can frustrate him sometimes when others don’t see the same thing.”

However, the Lancaster also respects the Ojara very much. “You have to respect any coach who wants to move his family to France, then to New Zealand and back to France to develop. Here we have Michael Alalalatoa, who was with the Crusaders at the time, and he said Rogue’s influence was great. He is competitive, has great knowledge of the game and like Johnny. He has an open mind with a desire to learn and improve. These are great traits for coaches.”

O’Driscoll is equally convinced that Sexton will one day be the coach – “We coached eight years ago when I last played with him; he’s encyclopedic in his knowledge” – Leinster’s most immediate concern will be to ensure La Rochelle does not slow down the flick speed that allows Jamison Gibson Park and Sexton Dictating a stressful pace. As O’Driscoll says, “If I had been the opposition, would I have tried to reach Johnny Sexton? I would.”

Jonny Sexton runs on the open field during Leinster’s loss to Toulouse in the 2022 semi-finals. Photo: Peter Fitzpatrick/Action Plus/Shutterstock

Leinster certainly wouldn’t underestimate Ogara’s tactical skills, which are sure to earn him international exposure soon. O’Driscoll expects “it’s going to be tight”. “Rouge is incredibly preparing for La Rochelle. I think Leinster would do it but I wouldn’t see progress by more than 10 points.”

O’Gara, with his massive Will Skelton lock fit for the start, would accept any kind of win. “After a while, it’s all about winning. You have to enjoy the ride, but you also have to win. It will be about which team can put pressure on the other team and which team will collapse under the pressure.”

BT Sport hosts the European Rugby Champions Cup. The 2021/22 final will be broadcast live on BT Sport 2 from 4pm. Find out more in bt.com/sport