Irish rugby legends Ronan O’Gara and David Humphreys will be on tonight’s Monday Night rugby from 7pm om Off The Ball, OTB Sports Radio and across all of our social channels.
It was a rivalry rooted in respect, but one which reverberated through the Irish rugby hierarchy.
Its machinations proved defining for many within the set-up, not least the two leading men.
Indeed, no sooner had David Humphreys seen-off the threat of Eric Elwood than was he met with the arrival of one Ronan O’Gara.
A la Elwood, O’Gara too had designs on Humphreys’ outhalf slot, the Irish number 10 jersey amounting to the proverbial hot-potato across the turn of the century.
Fresh from captaining Ulster to European Cup success in 1999, Humphreys held the upper hand heading into the decade which followed.
O’Gara, however, was among the fresh faces given their head by Warren Gatland in that feted 2000 Six Nations clash with Scotland. The rest, as they say, is history.
“O'Gara did reasonably well in his fifty minutes against the Scots but would be the first to admit he experienced some difficulty in adjusting to the pace of the game at international level”, noted Tony Ward in the aftermath.
“It was a bold call by Warren Gatland and in retrospect an inspired one given the thirty minutes of Humphreys magic which followed. It represented his most complete tactical performance in a green shirt.
“Humphreys is much too talented a player to have sitting on the sideline. If it is not in the No 10 shirt then it should be elsewhere be it centre or full-back. It won't happen, but it should.
“The depth of Humphreys' display against the Scots has in my view more than justified his re-selection now. If current form is to remain the primary yardstick for selection and you are truly only as good as your last game
“To drop Humphreys on the evidence of his tour-de-force against the Scots would be a travesty. O'Gara is a hugely exciting talent who, injury permitting, is going to have a long and illustrious career in the green, but the Dungannon man would be the proper choice.”
The outhalf debate had begun in earnest, most pointedly within the Irish management set-up.
As recalled by Gatland at an Off The Ball roadshow back in 2017, the selection proved an irreconcilable source of friction with then assistant coach Eddie O’Sullivan.
“I’ll tell you a story that I’ve never repeated, and I haven’t even told the person this,” Gatland said.
“We selected the team […] and at midnight I get a knock on my door and it’s Eddie and Brian O’Brien.
“Eddie says to me: ‘I think we’ve made a mistake at 10, I think we should look at that and change the team around, and pick Dave Humphreys.”
Gatland stated that after discussion, he decided to change the team sheet and brought Humphreys in at outhalf.
“Later that day, Ronan O’Gara comes to me,” Gatland continued,
“And he says: ‘I’m pretty disappointed about being left out of the team and not being selected, but I’ve spoken to Eddie and he said to me that at the end of the day, you’re the coach and you had the final say.’
“I never said anything to Ronan, and I’ve never ever told him that story.”
By the time of the 2003 World Cup, it was O’Sullivan himself at the reins, with Humphreys heading into the campaign in situ at number 10.
By tournament’s end, however, O’Gara had snared the shirt. For his part, the Munster man never looked back, with Humphreys ultimately hanging up his boots on the international stage after Ireland's Triple Crown win in 2006.
"Obviously I've known David for many years, both as an opponent when we played for our respective provinces and as a colleague with Ireland," said O’Gara of his then retiring counterpart.
"I would have the highest regard for him, both as a player and a sportsman.
"We've vied for the same number Ireland jersey and when this went my way, he was always supportive, though doubtless disappointed himself.
"I would consider him a marvellous role model for young players and I wish him and his family all the very best for the future and look forward to maintaining our friendship in the years to come."
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