Richie Mo’unga and Johnny Sexton both come on good weekends. Their respective teams have won big matches against quite different backgrounds. But the posting of the number 10 Crusaders, after a week of unrest that could easily have derailed, shows that it is made of good material, mentally and technically.
Sexton is the reigning World Rugby player of the year and played his role as Leinster won another PRO14, beating Glasgow for the title. Rugby fans are waiting for thrilling performances in RWC. Now you can book online tickets for Rugby World Cup to support your favourite players.
If both men are immersed in the hot atmosphere of the Rugby World Cup playoffs, I know who I want to be reborn and smell the roses. And he’s not the best player in the world.
Sexton is a class player, of that there is no doubt. He has been doing this for a decade now, but his mental stamina, Murray Mexted’s favourite mantra, raises doubts. There are no statistics to measure mental strength but just look closely at the big games, the ones that really matter to see who has this intangible.
At the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, Ireland was not able to rely on Sexton at the clutch stage. Ronan O’Gara was pivotally installed in key moments, although not being the complete player that is Sexton. O’Gara was a great matchmaker, even though he had attacked as a turnstile. But he played beautifully and was able to call on many experiences.
Two years later, Sexton scored a late goal in Dublin, which would have allowed Ireland to beat the All Black for the first time three years before achieving this feat.
We all thought Sexton had solved his temperament problems with an outstanding 2018 season, which culminated in a key role when Ireland lowered the All Blacks in November. He had exorcised these ghosts. He beat 2016-17 World Rugby Player of the Year Beauden Barrett.
But then, these ghosts returned to haunt Sexton during the Six Nations of 2019, where he presented a succession of tasteless and error-prone parades. It was not Robinson Crusoe, it’s true in a sickened Ireland XV. But when your general is so discoloured, he throws red lights for Coach Joe Schmidt.
Joey Carbery and Jack Carty wait behind the scenes, if Sexton was to weaken again in the World Cup match against Scotland, then in the quarterfinals, while Ireland was trying to get a historic place in half -final.
Mo’unga is, of course, Barrett’s replacement for the All Blacks, although he is the best No. 10 in the country. He will probably fight No. 10 against Canada and Namibia, but he could do the job just as effectively against South Africa or Ireland.
His 14 points in an uneventful outing against the Blues was proof of that, not because he played well, but because he did so with question marks about his actions as he did drunk in Pretoria. He erred in his judgment by responding to a social media message about an incident he says he does not remember.
Shifted and besieged, there was only one option: go out and make a major effort against the Blues. He was under scrutiny and passed the test. He trained the young Harry Plummer, allowing him to achieve his goals and to operate the knife with confidence. He also scored a solo try, without the big tackle of Melani Nanai.
You can count the missing Mo’unga games for the Crusaders on one hand and you have three fingers left. The confrontation between the British and Irish Lions of 2017 was a failure. He had some technical problems with his fantasy in February.
But every game shows that he has the infallible temperament that great No10s, including his predecessor Daniel Carter, the most beautiful of the top five, the flyhalves, call them as you like.
Last Saturday showed the class work that will have warmed the hulls of Steve Hansen’s heart. Johnny Sexton may have seen it too, but he knows it’s the standard of mental toughness he has to achieve.
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