By rights I should be moaning that we only took the lead against our western cousins on Saturday at the 11th hour, but truth be told, after what happened at Croker last week, I’m just happy to be using the words “Sexton” and “drop” positively in the same sentence.
American sports have a phrase “the clutch” that we should borrow this side of the pond more often. It refers to that moment of a contest when the right composure is needed to turn what you’ve done several times in training into something that will bring home the bacon.
Well whatever you want to say about the Sexton/O’Gara debate, one thing’s for sure on the evidence of this week’s Magners League action…Declan Kidney has two quality out-halves to choose from when it comes to the clutch.
First we had ROG on Friday night. Overall, I didn’t think he had a great game, and I was sickened by the silence of the Setanta commentators whenever he made a mistake, or even when he did miss a place kick, how Donal Lenihan would deflect attention by banging on against good things he has done in the past. I really don’t want to bash the Munster No10 for the sake of it, but if he does something wrong he should be called on it same as any other player.
But when it came time to convert Jean de Villiers’ stunning late try, O’Gara was faced with a conversion with the clock ticking down which would force the visiting Warriors to get two scores to win, and he nailed it superbly. It reminded me of his kick from a similar spot (beside the touchline, on the wrong side for a right-footer) when he converted Shane Horgan’s try at Twickenham in 2006 to clinch the Triple Crown.
Naturally that kick heaped the pressure onto his nemesis at the RDS on Saturday afternoon, and for the first 75 minutes of the contest, it appeared the same demons that have plagued him in the calendar year to date were still at Sexton. Even his passing, which was nigh on flawless in the green jersey the week before, was deserting him.
And much like the Scotsmen at Croker, Connacht didn’t seem to be clear on how their hosts saw the game progressing. Blue-clad supporters were barely in their seats when Fionn Carr crossed for the opening score, and it wasn’t too long before he was adding a second.
When the half-time whistle blew, I felt like we had a mountain to climb, but on checking the score, we were only six behind, so surely it was only a matter of time before we clawed them back.
But although the second half seemed to go on forever (which wasn’t helped by the chronic failure of the RDS scoreboard clocks), it seemed that victory just wasn’t meant to be ours on the day.
Now going by Donal Lenihan’s standards, Sexton deserves credit for his penalty near the end which, having been taken from inside his own half, tragically dipped at the last minute and hit the crossbar.
But he was to get another chance – a drop goal from the ten-metre line so by no means a done deal – and with the match on the line he made no mistake and Leinster had their fifth Magners League win in a row.
The result was unfair on the visitors who deserved to come away with more than just the one point but if it’s any consolation Michael Bradley’s men showed yet again how important Connacht’s existence is for Irish rugby. Best of luck to them in their upcoming Amlin Cup quarterfinal with Bourgoin.
So no matter how sober we may be watching it, both Leinster and Munster fans know they have Number10s ready, willing and able to deliver in the clutch next Friday night at Thomond Park.
Of course given the way the last two derbies have gone, the hosts will be delighted if there’s any need at all for clutch kicking on the night! Couldn’t go without mentioning that, could I?