Munster and Ireland legend Ronan O’Gara believes Johnny Sexton should be crowned World Player of the Year as much for the man he is off the pitch as the playmaker he is on it.
The Ireland fly-half is the odds-on bookies’ favourite to pip New Zealand’s Beauden Barrett to World Rugby’s top award, at the Monte Carlo ceremony.
Sexton inspired Ireland to just a third-ever Six Nations Grand Slam, a series win in Australia and second-ever win over New Zealand, and scooped the PRO14-Champions Cup double with Leinster.
O’Gara, who was Sexton’s rival for the number 10 shirt with Ireland for years, took to social media to explain why the 33-year-old should win the award.
He wrote: “The man in line to win WPOTY tomorrow night deserves it not only for his on field qualities but also for his off field. Never had it easy,played AIL for years, nearly lost his Leinster contract but kept persevering. A brilliant player, but a better person with great values.
“Example. Heard I was moving early to NZ. 90% of people text or on a good day ring!!JS piles his family into the car on a day he should be kicking to do a 650km round trip to wish me well and shake my hand. Didn’t need to but did… #champ#leader # deserved.”
New Zealand’s pacy playmaker Barrett became just the second man to scoop World Rugby’s top gong twice in a row, when collecting the honour last year.
Richie McCaw is the only other man to claim the award twice in a row, leaving Barrett eyeing an unprecedented hat-trick this weekend.
Sexton is however expected to join European winners Thierry Dusautoir, Shane Williams, Jonny Wilkinson and Keith Wood, given his stunning 12 months, that backed up helping the British and Irish Lions secure a drawn series in New Zealand in 2017.
A win for Sexton would break New Zealand’s sequence of claiming the top individual accolade for the last six years, with the All Blacks having now topped the world rankings for nine years.
New Zealand wing Rieko Ioane and South Africa duo Faf De Klerk and Malcolm Marx complete the high-calibre nominees.
Versatile half-back Pauline Bourdon led France’s Six Nations Grand Slam triumph, and leads another stellar cast list for the Women’s 15s player of the year award.
The French dominate the shortlist, with captain Gaelle Hermet, lock Safi N’Diaye and full-back Jessy Tremouliere all also in the running.
New Zealand’s 38-year-old hooker Fiao’o Faamausili completes the nominees, who came out of retirement to lead the Black Ferns to back-to-back victories over Australia in August.
Ireland will be at the forefront of thoughts for team of the year, while boss Joe Schmidt could comfortably scoop coach of the year.
Young Leinster and Ireland full-back Jordan Larmour could also land the breakthrough player of the year award, with South Africa’s Aphiwe Dyantyi and New Zealand’s Karl Tu’inukuafe also nominated.
World Rugby will also name the Men’s and Women’s Sevens players of the year and select their try of the year.
The International Rugby Players will select a special merit winner, with the referee award, spirit of rugby award, award for character and the Vernon Pugh Award for distinguished service all also chosen.
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