Six Nations 2014: Owen Farrell v Jonathan Sexton - a clash of fly-halves and firm friends


Confrontations between tribal enemies can be body-shattering, but when Saturday's final whistle goes at Twickenham two men will seek each other out no matter what.

In Jonathan Sexton's eyes Owen Farrell is a player with unlimited potential who doesn't back down when tempers flare and has taken his game to another level since they toured with the Lions last summer.

The Irishman makes no effort to hide his admiration for the England fly-half who will eyeball him for 80 minutes, because he sees much of himself in the 22-year-old and, dare we say it, envies the career that is opening up in front of Farrell.

It seems a nonsense when you think back to Sexton's top-dog status on the Lions tour. The memory remains fresh of the way the former Leinster fly-half tore on to Leigh Halfpenny's offload to score the try which broke Australia's resistance in the third Test. Sexton still enjoys dissecting that try on a laptop, admitting that the goosebumps never fail to rise when he sees it.

Naturally the competitor in him was not happy to be substituted for Farrell 10 minutes after his moment of glory, but he can now raise a smile for his friend. The joke on the Lions tour was that Farrell's preference for the company of the Irish players over his compatriots was down to the Saracen's eagerness to avoid the five Leicester players.

But Sexton and Farrell got to know each other on a level that went beyond the dressing-room schtick. Kicking sessions after training meant many car journeys together back to the team hotel where they would be put through the recovery regimes before grabbing a coffee as the hours ticked by.

Both men were aware of their privileged positions in sport but spoke often of the pressures that surround fly-halves on and off the pitch.

Jonny Sexton says of Owen Farrell (pictured): ‘He’s competitive like me, and I kind of admire that’ Jonny Sexton says of Owen Farrell (pictured): ‘He’s competitive like me, and I kind of admire that’ (Getty Images) "Obviously you talk about different moments in your careers where I've asked him how he copes with the pressure," admits Sexton. "In England they're under more scrutiny than we are in Ireland or Wales. We spoke about everything really, he's got a very similar temperament to me and I kind of admire that because he's so competitive.

"I remember Paulie [Ireland captain Paul O'Connell] speaking about him after one of the first games about how he was leading the charge [in a confrontation]. That's something I admire in him, and for some reason people criticise it.

"Sometimes people say he gets involved with things that he shouldn't, but that's what makes him a great player, that fire in the belly and it's better to have someone you need to control than someone you have to kick up the backside to get him going. I can't speak highly enough of him."

That spark is familiar to Sexton, who has often played with a chip on his shoulder. It was clear in his breakthrough moment in the 2009 Heineken Cup semi-final when he taunted Munster's Ronan O'Gara (now his Racing Metro kicking coach) after Gordon D'Arcy scored for Leinster.

A few weeks later, at the age of 24, Sexton won the first of his three Heineken Cups and, despite his club success, you suspect his late start is why he looks at the man six years his junior, a Premiership winner and Lions tourist, and is envious of where he might go next.

"I think because he's so young and he's had so many experiences that he'll just keep improving and he's taken his game to a new level this year," says Sexton, who knows what it's like as a young fly-half trying to establish himself.

"I found that at Leinster where Felipe Contepomi and Isa Nacewa were two top-class players in my position and I was a young lad. I was always looking at them and trying to prove to the coaches that I could do what they could, rather than looking after myself and trying to get picked for who you are.

"You do doubt yourself and you do want to show the coaches you're just as good. That can have a bad effect on you, and it did."

Today Farrell stands in the way of Ireland's Triple Crown aspirations, an achievement that Sexton believes could prove a springboard for a group of Irish players who have underachieved for close on four years now.

As a spectator, Sexton saw Ireland beat England five times out of six between 2004 and 2009; now as player he is in the middle of a three-game losing streak to the old enemy. The team named by Ireland coach Joe Schmidt may trump their opponents for experience (724 caps to 302 in the starting XVs), but eight of the visitors have losing records against England, including Sexton.

"There's a massive void there. We've had great days in green jerseys but there's guys there who have won nothing like Cian Healy, Peter O'Mahony, Chris Henry, Mike Ross," he sighs. "I think they are desperate to do something in a green jersey. There's been great days but not enough consecutive great days to reward us with something to show for it. Hopefully this week we'll get something small and then something bigger to follow."

And as for his old mate Farrell? "We still stay in touch and I hope he has a good game at the weekend but ends up on the losing side."

Winners and losers: England v Ireland

Eight of this Ireland side don't know what it is like to beat England:

Jamie Heaslip Four defeats

Cian Healy Three defeats

Mike Ross Three defeats

Jonathan Sexton Three defeats

Rob Kearney Three defeats

Conor Murray Two defeats

Peter O'Mahony Two defeats

Chris Henry One defeat

... whereas seven of England's squad have perfect records against Ireland:

Mike Brown Two wins

Owen Farrell Two wins

Courtney Lawes Two wins

Chris Robshaw Two wins

Joe Marler One win

Joe Launchbury One win

Billy Twelvetrees One win

sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor