Johnny Sexton has no choice but to be the main man for Ireland at the Rugby World Cup. He holds the key to them making history or not in the coming weeks.
He is an amazing fly-half, you cannot question it. We were in many Ireland squads together before my retirement in 2013 and I’ve been part of the Racing Metro coaching staff guiding him since, ahead of his impending return to Leinster.
It is going to be very interesting to see how Johnny goes. I was worried he could be a little undercooked, as the Top 14 season finished in May.
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But I hear he has been looking great during pre-season training in Dublin. He has come through the tests very well and looks in fine condition.
He has a fantastic relationship with coach Joe Schmidt, and it will provide him with great strength.
Success could be defined by how he and his team-mates get on against France, in what should be the Pool D decider on October 11.
Believe me, Les Bleus are in much-better shape than they were at the Six Nations. They are buzzing again and things are going in their favour.
An awful lot of will and defiance will be needed from Schmidt’s side to get past them, in the process probably avoiding holders New Zealand in the quarter-finals.
A good performance will provide belief, which could carry them to the semi-finals or beyond – somewhere our nation has never been before.
You also cannot discount the value of coming into the tournament as two-time-successive Six Nations winners.
Ireland have earned a reputation under Schmidt of being a fair team, who do not give away too many penalties.
Referees will have a huge influence during the World Cup, and so many of their decisions are based on perception.
If you are not giving away too many penalties and Sexton is knocking over your own with the boot, then you are in a good place.
I’ve been there standing over the ball at World Cups and it is no different when you are an experienced Test player, used to playing in front of 80,000 people and all the buzz.
The name of the competition does not make a difference, it doesn’t change anything about your preparations.
It was never an issue for me, playing in a World Cup, Six Nations or Test game.
If anything, it will be a bit easier for Sexton at the World Cup as it will get his adrenaline flowing.
Knowing the mindset of Schmidt, he will have a detailed plan already laid out for Ireland to go all the way and win it.
In the past, others might have thought about getting to the quarter-finals and taking it from there.
Ireland are sixth in the latest rankings and it gives a good idea of where they are at.
Typically with them, they could win the whole thing or go home in the quarter-finals. It is honestly how I feel.
Fly-half O’Gara scored a record 1,083 points in 128 Test appearances for Ireland, featuring in the 2003, 2007 and 2011 Rugby World Cups. Meet him and a host of other legends at the Rugby Fanzone at the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai. Visit www.watchrugbyindubai.com for more information.
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