Sorry Bod but it's time to step aside - Sexton on his 37th birthday became the GOAT

Sorry Bod but it’s time to step aside – Sexton on his 37th birthday became the GOAT

THIS IS A STORY about when Jonathan Sexton became Johnny Sexton, the face corporate brands would pay big money for, the player who carried Irish hopes for a decade or more, the one who became Saturday the greatest rugby player this nation has produced.

It begins on a rainy day in 2007.

Brian O’Driscoll had repeatedly stood up in the dressing room and told his Leinster team-mates that unless they started calling him on mistakes they would never go from contenders to champions. Everyone listened and nodded. But nothing has changed.

Then one day, this kid from the academy was invited to train with the first team. O’Driscoll threw the kid a sloppy pass. The kid yelled at him. “There was silence,” recalls Bernard Jackman, formerly of Leinster and Ireland. “It was a case of, ‘did that just happen?’ Next thing, Brian says, ‘yeah, you’re right. My fault’.”

On this day, 17 years ago, O’Driscoll passed a ball to Sexton; Saturday in Dunedin, he handed her a stick to carry. BOD is no longer the best player Irish rugby has produced. Now it’s Sexton.

Not everyone will agree.

They’ll find a reel of highlights and show clips of dancing feet, boy-next-door smiles versus Roy Keane-esque grunts, and laborious running style. O’Driscoll has been on four Lions tours, Sexton two. O’Driscoll broke the mould, scored that hat-trick in Paris, the game that rocked Irish rugby.

And he did so much more. European Champions Cups? He won three. But Sexton won four.

Six Nations titles? He won two, including a grand slam. Sexton did better and won three.

Success with the Lions? O’Driscoll was on that 2013 tour of Australia…but was in the stands for the final test; Sexton scored a try to help Warren Gatland’s side clinch it, then, four years later, came into the team for the second and third Tests and turned a 1-0 deficit into a 1 draw -1.

It was New Zealand, where he is now.

And that’s the click. O’Driscoll played 13 times against the All Blacks. O’Driscoll lost 13 times to the All Blacks.

Under Sexton, Ireland have won four of their last seven meetings with New Zealand.

It’s a kind of Irish tale. Try to get the best out of yourself. Fight for your dreams. Do not abandon. Given the toughness of his game and character, he hasn’t carved his way into the hearts of the nation like other sports stars, such as Katie Taylor, Shane Lowry…Brian O ‘Driscoll.

But that doesn’t mean he’s not the best.

It reminds you of the old Pelé/Maradona debate. Both were great but one could beat a team on its own, the other was less flamboyant but slightly more efficient.

It’s visible through Sexton’s resume.

There was the stunning drop goal in his first Heineken Cup final; there was the 28-point run in his second. He impressed on his third victory, not so much on his fourth, but still came away with a winner’s medal.

With Ireland, Paris was a favored haunt, the city in which he scored two tries to win the 2014 Six Nations, where he returned four years later to score a winning drop goal after 41 plays.

Credit: James Crombie/INPHO

We could go on. Against Wales in 2018, he was huge; during this summer’s tour of Australia, he angered the locals so much they dubbed him a Bond villain.

But Ireland still won and wouldn’t have done it without him, just as they wouldn’t have beaten New Zealand in 2016, 2018 or 2021. And that’s before we talk about Saturday.

Before we get to the good stuff, let’s think about the error. He only did one in the game – looking to get the most out of a touchdown kick. The ball fell short.

A mistake.

That was all.

Everything else was a masterclass, the disguised pass to Tadhg Beirne two minutes out that released the lock midway through and set up the move that led to Ireland’s opening try. It’s easy to forget that he had five other implications in that move, his short single passes a sacrifice of his ego, his longer, whipped delivery to Mack Hansen buying Ireland a few extra yards.

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Again, it was Sexton who took the All Blacks on the wrong foot by pretending to go wide when he instead stayed narrow, sending Andrew Porter clear. A similar storyline would play out in the second half, the key pass this time provided by Sexton to Bundee Aki before he took out his symbol and led the orchestra from inside the All Blacks 22.

There were moments of bravery: a tackle on Codie Taylor; another on Quinn Tupaea; his appearance at the bottom of a ruck after Mack Hansen burst into billboards; his dive on a loose ball after Ireland lost control of it.

Jack Kyle retired without ever needing to wash his shorts; but Sexton can never be accused of shirking his defensive duties.

Today, he celebrates his 37th birthday.

Only six players have scored 1000 points in test rugby. Sexton is one kick away from making that seven. 100+ caps, three Six Nations, four wins over New Zealand, four Heineken Cups, at some point medals have to mean more than views on a YouTube video .

“Thirty seven! Wow,” said Ciaran Frawley, his understudy with Leinster and Ireland.

“It’s unreal because as you get older he gets better. He doesn’t look like a guy at all ready to walk away from the game. He has a presence that everyone feels; that the nation feels and the whole world can feel when he’s on the pitch.

“So if he can keep bringing that, why would he walk away from it? I thought he was absolutely brilliant on Saturday. For any 10 year old watching it, we are simply blessed.

What makes it great, asks Frawley.

“It’s his state of mind, his dynamism, his passion, his love for the game; he was world player of the year for a reason and he’s obviously talented; it really ticks all the boxes. It’s amazing that he continues. I don’t know where I will be at 37. He is incredible.

The best we’ve had.

#Bod #time #step #Sexton #37th #birthday #GOAT

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