Cold shoulder for O'Gara in Paris as Sexton holds his ground


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The Independent Online

The rivalry between Jonathan Sexton and Ronan O'Gara is now so long-standing it is hard to believe anything could crank it up another notch. But local Irish broadcaster RTE is currently at the centre of a debate over whether they are seeking to heighten tensions by deliberately zooming in on O'Gara whenever Sexton misses a kick.

"I have seen it a couple of times," said Sexton. "RTE seem to be quite good for that kind of stirring it up but that's their job, isn't it? I don't tend to look at the big screen too often. Maybe the odd time just to see a replay of something."

He has resisted all attempts by O'Gara to displace him as Ireland's main man. In the last international, against Italy, the subject was given a fresh airing after O'Gara tried – and failed – to get on to the pitch as Sexton's replacement when the Leinster fly-half was injured.

As he was being treated for a cut, O'Gara emerged, only to be waved away as Sexton got up to take the subsequent penalty. He went on to register 17 points, equalling his international best.

He will need to be equally sharp today when Ireland return to Paris for their rescheduled fixture against France. Sexton admits he was delighted the first game was called off because of an icy pitch last month.

Just before kick-off he saw the France scrum-half Morgan Parra angrily kick the ground after missing a kick. "I went over, had a look at that piece of ground and it was solid. I said: 'That doesn't look good there.' He goes: 'Yeah, frozen.' And he started kicking the ground again.

"I did my warm-up and our half of the pitch was absolutely perfect except for just outside the touchline, which is still in the field of play because people get tackled into touch. We were a bit concerned and I noticed the fan coming out on that spot. It may as well have been a hairdryer."

Sexton made his debut in the fixture at the Stade de France two years ago and still has memories of watching, as a 14-year-old, Ireland's last triumph there courtesy of Brian O'Driscoll's hat-trick of tries in 2000.

"It's a massive memory. It was the game that changed the standards of what Irish young people expect of themselves. We now see Brian, Paul [O'Connell], these guys beat England and France whereas when we were young we didn't. We almost expected Ireland to lose to France and England, but those guys have now changed it around to where we do expect to win.

"I know our record against France is still not good. It's a great challenge to go over and try to create a little bit of history for ourselves. We'd be in good company if we got the win."

France v Ireland is on BBC1 today, kick-off 3pm