Ollie Campbell says coach Declan Kidney has the best of both worlds when it comes to deciding who should wear the Irish number 10 jersey.
Having been embroiled 30 years ago in a country-dividing scrap with Tony Ward for the right to the shirt , Campbell has take a particularly keen interest in the latter-day re-run in which Munster’s Ronan O’Gara, 33, and Leinster’s Jonathan Sexton, 24, are the protagonists.
Tomorrow — for the third match is a row — it’s the younger man who starts, suggesting that he has emerged as Kidney’s first choice.
Campbell is a big admirer of both players. That being the case, he believes that the luckiest man in the selection triangle is Ireland’s coach.
“Declan Kidney is in the very nice position of having two world class out-halves to choose from.
“And the big thing is that unlike when Tony and I were in competition for the jersey, he really isn’t required to make a decision. He actually can use both and play both in one match,” Campbell points out.
“He can start with one, as happened at Twickenham where Sexton played for an hour, made two of the tries and then just when the game needed to be tightened up, suddenly they were able to bring on someone like O’Gara who has vast experience.
“He gets the field position, we get the try, we win the match.
“So Declan has the best of both worlds in having two out-halves of the abilities of Jonathan and Ronan.”
Highlighting what the rivals bring to the figurative table, he lauds O’Gara for what he has achieved and expresses the belief that Sexton has what it takes to become a great Irish fly-half.
“What a career Ronan has had. Where would Ireland be — and where would Ireland have been in the last decade — had he not been in the number 10 Ireland jersey?” Campbell says. “I think, since David Humphreys retired, Irish rugby has been crying out for someone to challenge and contest the out-half position with Ronan and suddenly, out of the blue — because it’s only in the past 12 months it has happened — we have that man in Jonathan Sexton.
“A year is a long time in rugby. In January 2009, Sexton played for St Mary’s against Old Belvedere in an All-Ireland League match because he wasn’t getting games for Leinster. He wasn’t in the running.”
Campbell sees major benefits in having two men in contention for one berth.
“I think the fact that there is now a contest at number 10 is going to bring the best out of both Sexton and probably even again O’Gara,” he reckons.
Nor does the former goal-kicking ace place too much emphasis on Sexton’s recent dip in form off the tee.
“There isn’t a kicker in the world who in the world whose career hasn’t hit a patch like Jonathan is in just at the moment,” Campbell points out.
“I hope he doesn’t make too many adjustments or think about it too much. I hope he just relies on his natural instincts and the ability that has got him to this stage of his career. In fairness to him, against England two of the kicks he missed were from the touchline — one on the right, the other on the left —and one was from his own half, so I think things have to be kept in perspective. It’s true that against Wales last Saturday he had an off-day, missing a couple of kicks he would normally be expected to get with his eyes closed.
“But, against that, you have to admire his mental strength — something we have long admired about O’Gara, of course — for having had the courage on what was such a mixed day to take that last drop goal. So we have to balance those things out and I would say that his current place-kicking is not a major cause for concern.
“I think it’s just a blip in what could be a long and illustrious career as an Irish number 10. At the moment he probably doesn’t have Ronan’s game management ability. That will come.
“But in terms of his attacking and being a threat with the ball as a runner, I think he brings a different dimension to this team.”
Meanwhile Campbell, who expects Ireland to win tomorrow, knows it is unlikely that Sexton — or O’Gara — will match his 1982 achievement in scoring all of the points in the Triple Crown-clinching defeat of Scotland. That’s a crown he can continue to wear, unchallenged.