Brian O’Driscoll is in no doubt as to who he is voting for for the World Player of the Year award.
BRIAN O’DRISCOLL WAS nominated for the World Rugby Player of the Year award no fewer than three times throughout his decorated career, but not since Keith Wood in 2001 has an Irish player been recognised with the accolade.
O’Driscoll was one of the nominees Wood pipped to the inaugural award 17 years ago, before the centre was on the shortlist the following year and then again in 2009 on the back of captaining Ireland to Grand Slam glory.
Indeed there has been no shortage of Irish representation among the nominees down through the years, the likes of Gordon D’Arcy, Paul O’Connell and Jamie Heaslip earning the distinction of being named among the best in the world.
But not since 2011 — when France’s Thierry Dusautoir was honoured — has a player not from New Zealand been called on stage at the end-of-year awards ceremony, with Beauden Barrett this year bidding to become the first player to win three-in-a-row.
Among those up against the All Black out-half is Johnny Sexton, who has been nominated for the second time following his brilliance for both Ireland and Leinster throughout a dream season.
Sexton, who starts for Ireland against Argentina this evening, was consistently outstanding last term, guiding his club and country to rarefied heights during 2018 and while facing a stiff task to usurp Barrett from the stage, would be a worthy winner.
Also in competition with All Blacks winger Rieko Ioane and Springbok pair Faf de Klerk and Malcolm Marx, Sexton’s credentials stand up to anyone.
The 33-year-old, who was previously nominated back in 2014, helped Joe Schmidt’s Ireland to a memorable Six Nations Grand Slam and first series win in Australia for 39 years, playing a key role throughout the course of the season.
He started the international season with that stunning last-gasp drop goal in Paris while also steering Leinster to a historic Champions Cup-Pro14 double — all of which means he has got the vote of O’Driscoll, who is part of the eight-person judging panel.
John Smit, George Gregan, Maggie Alphonsi, Clive Woodward, Agustín Pichot, Richie McCaw and Fabien Galthié are the other sitting members, with the winner set to be announced on 25 November after the public are also given the chance to vote for their choice.
“Will he win it? I’m one of eight judges, so he’s an eighth of the way there,” O’Driscoll smiled, before adding he hopes his fellow northern hemisphere judges agree.
“Do I think Johnny has been one of the most consistent and best players in the world this year? I do, but I think we can get forgotten about sometimes by our southern hemisphere counterparts,” the former Ireland captain explained.
“We’ll have to wait and see whether Maggie, Clive Woodward and Fabien… I think there’s enough weight in the Six Nations, the European Cup and the Pro14, and that drop goal in France.
“Johnny doesn’t play bad games, he doesn’t. His 7/10 is a poor game. He would be a worthy winner.”
After putting the feet up last weekend, Sexton returns to the Ireland XV for today’s second game of the autumnal programme, as Schmidt’s side begin their November workouts in earnest against Argentina [KO 6.30pm, RTÉ/Channel 4].
The out-half will win his 77th Ireland cap in the number 10 jersey, partnering Kieran Marmion in the half-backs in a team which shows 12 changes from last weekend’s straightforward win over Italy in Chicago.
After scoring a dazzling hat-trick at Soldier Field, Jordan Larmour is one of only three players retained by Schmidt — Jacob Stockdale and Bundee Aki are the others — for the clash against Mario Ledesma’s Pumas.
It will be the 21-year-old’s first home start on the occasion of his eighth cap and while Rob Kearney’s absence through injury has allowed Schmidt offer Larmour another opportunity at fullback, the head coach said on Thursday he expects a battle between the two for the jersey for next week’s visit of the All Blacks.
O’Driscoll, meanwhile, is excited to see Larmour get another chance at Test level but admits Kearney, as the tried and trusted option, continues to bring stability and experience in the backfield for Schmidt.
“I’m sure it wasn’t easy viewing last weekend for Rob Kearney when a guy that’s in your position runs in a hat-trick,” O’Driscoll added.
“His fielding game which is very very important in international rugby is something that we associate with Kearney, who is one of the best fielding fullbacks in the world. His kicking game likewise is superior to Jordan’s.
“So I think probably the safer option for now with an eye on the World Cup being 10 months away is Rob, but Jordan has all but played himself in as a bench player for me now because he can play 13, wing and fullback.
“He’s the obvious choice to be in the 23 and he can do something for you if you need to pull a rabbit out of a hat.”
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