THE SEXTON v O’GARA debate has been raging back and forth in Ireland for several months now and Italy coach Nick Mallet is at least one man with a clear view on the issue.
Ahead of his team’s crucial pool game against the Irish on Sunday, the South African has declared O’Gara to be “a slightly better kicker than Sexton”.
Speaking to reporters, he said: “O’Gara is a player with a heap of experience. He has lots of caps and has played in finals of the Heineken Cup. He has a good kick and is a slightly better kicker than Sexton.”
Should Ireland beat the Italians in Dunedin, Mallet’s time in charge of the Azzurri will come to an immediate end; the man himself, however, is hoping for one additional swansong.
“(Ireland) are an excellent side,” he insisted. “The pack played well to beat Australia and the team has six players from the Lions. It will be a difficult challenge for the Italian players. We aren’t just a one-trick pony and we aren’t just a scrummaging side.
“It is the right time to point out that we have scored more tries than Ireland, we have improved in attack over the last two matches and now we have to improve in defence.
“This match isn’t about my last match or second-to-last match. It is about the development of this side, about how this team has turned itself into a side respected by every team in the world. People used to put their B team out against us. No one puts their B team in against us now.”
Speaking at the team announcement on Friday, Ireland coach Declan Kidney denied that O’Gara has been handed the number ten jersey just because of his better kicking form in New Zealand, insisting: “Ronan has been playing well for us but I don’t think I have ever in my life played someone just for their place kicking.
“Jonny’s a top class out half and place kicker. He’s disappointed he’s not playing but when he comes on he does his bit.”
It’s fair to say then that this particular discussion is set to run for a little while to come…