Matt Williams and Gerry Thornley joined Joe Molloy on Monday Night Rugby, reviewing Leinster vs Munster and diving into a debate as to who’s the best Irish rugby player they’ve ever come across.
Jamie Heaslip comments’ post Leinster’s 27-13 triumph over Munster sparked “an awful question” of debate on Monday Night rugby, according to Matt Williams, who said he “tend[s] to dodge” all time player discussions as it is near impossible to compare eras and positions.
Heaslip had argued on the game’s TV coverage that Sexton was the best Irish player he’s ever seen, which is a statement former Leinster and Ulster coach Williams says is “hard to argue.”
“If that’s what Jamie Heaslip is saying I think he’s well entitled to that” continued Williams.
“Is he better than Brian O’Driscoll? Is he better than Paul O’Connell? Paul was a second row, they’re different animals.
“What Johnny has done in the last 18 months is absolutely unbelievable and unprecedented, because he has not reinvented himself, he’s reinvigorated himself.”
Williams went on to explain that when some players age they are forced to adapt their game, but this has not been the case with Ireland’s current number 10.
“He’s still playing the game like he played when he was a young guy but he’s playing it better” he says.
“2009 he had a horrible year. He dropped off and I thought he was finished. To this guy’s undying credit he’s reinvigorated himself, has come back and just plays extraordinary rugby at the highest level.”
“In my own opinion O’Driscoll is the best Irish player I have seen. And I might be biased in that because I coached him for four years, but that doesn’t mean Johnny Sexton isn’t an all-time great that deserves to be in our pantheon” he concludes.
Irish Times journalist Gerry Thornley also spoke to the Irish captain’s ability to regenerate himself, a trait which also extends to Irish rugby itself.
“Johnny’s reinvented himself in the last two years and on top of that Player of the Year award and a grand slam he’s just masterminded a 2-1 series win over the All Blacks.”
“He sets standards in both the Leinster and Ireland set ups, he captains both teams, his goal kicking is world class, he’s still a running threat, a great distributor, sees space on the pitch like no one else can and has kept himself in brilliant nick for a 37 year old” he says.
“I remember when O’Connell and O’Driscoll retired thinking, well that’s it, we’ll never make a world cup semi-final or win a world cup now because we had just lost our greatest ever.”
“It’s funny how teams replenish themselves and greatness comes in other positions.”
And as for Irish rugby’s GOAT tag? Well, there’s still some time to fully close that one off yet.
“Let’s put it this way, in the next 12 months he has the chance to end that argument for all time” says Thornley.
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