Highlights on Off The Ball

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Highlights on Off The Ball


'There is this colosseum feel to watching these two' | Andy Dunne

Johnny Sexton and Ronan O'Gara will write another chapter in their storied rivalry when they are on opposing sides of the Heineken Champions Cup final on Saturday.

Johnny Sexton and Ronan O'Gara will write another chapter in their storied rivalry when they are on opposing sides of the Heineken Champions Cup final on Saturday.

While O'Gara will not actually be taking the field, his influence, intelligence and game knowledge will be evident all over the La Rochelle side as the head coach.

Sexton, on the other hand, will be leading out his Leinster side from the flyhalf channel, and will influence the game in his usual fashion as playmaker.

Former Leinster and Connacht flyhalf Andy Dunne, who himself played in and won a Challenge Cup final with Harlequins, joined Off The Ball on Friday to look ahead to another colossal clash between La Rochelle and Leinster.

While there are obvious comparisons to the semi-final in 2021 which saw La Rochelle knock Leinster out of the Champions Cup, Dunne felt that the bigger story in the lead up to Saturday's final was the characters on either side.

"There are strong characters across the whole story of the game," Dunne said. "You could say it's Stuart Lancaster and Leo Cullen's Leinster and Johnny Sexton's Leinster against O'Gara.

"I think the two of them, put in a colosseum, would fight to the death to win this game. In a sense there is this colosseum feel to watching these two fellas go toe to toe since 2009.

"From the press that followed their spat and then their friendship. There are very strong characters on both sides which makes it more entertaining."

Sexton has a new balance to his game

Sexton has been key to Leinster's success since the famous 'changing of the guard' against O'Gara in 2009. However, Dunne feels the Irish captain has evolved his game beyond what Leinster fans have been used to for som many years.

"What Sexton has added is a balance," Dunne said. "He has always had the quality to kick. He has always had the quality to run himself. He has always had the quality to be a good distributor.

"Now he seems to be balancing that out throughout a 60 to 80 minute performance. He may not admit it, but certainly with ball in hand he is less physical.

"He is not taking the ball to the line as much and taking on people, but when he does, he is more effective."

While some have criticised Sexton's age in recent years, suggesting that he is too old to keep taking the hits that he has been throughout his career, Dunne believes that he has become a much more balanced player.

"He used to do it on a regular occasion, and try it and try it and knock on the door," Dunne said. "He'd get pummelled, get up and get on with it, but eventually your body gives in.

"I think now he has got much more sharpness to his game with ball in hand. The semi-final was a prime example. He sold a dummy, ran through, left the Toulouse second row for dead.

"The line break resulted in a try with no physical contact made on Johnny Sexton. That has been a huge shift in his game."

Leinster will be looking to join Toulouse on six European titles, while La Rochelle are hoping to earn their maiden title.

Off The Ball will have live match commentary of the final, including full previews and post-game analysis.

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Aisling O'Reilly Andy Dunne Aviva Stadium Brian O'Driscoll Champions Cup Champions Cup Final Felipe Contepomi Football Heineken Champions Cup Heineken Cup Hugo Keenan IRFU Johnny Sexton La Rochelle La Rochelle Rugby Leinster Leinster Rugby Leo Cullen Munster Rugby News Newstalk Off The Ball Otb Otb Sports Otb Sports Radio Podcast Radio Ronan O'Gara Rugby Sport Sports Sports News Stade De France Stuart Lancaster Tadgh Furlong