Saturday 22 July 2017

Johnny Sexton to tone down behaviour towards refs as he targets series leveller

Ruaidhri O'Connor in Wellington

Johnny Sexton has admitted he needs to tone down his approach to referees ahead of the Lions’ second Test against New Zealand in Wellington.

The Ireland out-half was warned about waving his hands at the officials by Jaco Peyper during last week’s first Test loss and complained bitterly to the referee in the immediate aftermath of the game.

Lions captain Sam Warburton revealed this week that the side have spoken about their approach to the match officials after getting on the wrong side of the South African last week, losing the penalty count 11-6 and irritating with their chatter.

Warburton said he'll be the only player to interact with referee Jerome Garces, who takes charge tomorrow having been an assistant referee last weekend.

And Sexton puts his hands up and accepts it’s an area of the game he has to improve.

“Yeah, definitely, it's part of my game or personality that I need to work on. I've been working on it for the last 10 years so it's been going really well,” the Leinster man said with a wry smile.

“Things happen in the heat of battle where you wave your arms, what I said to him after the game was that it's an instinctive thing to wave your arms and what I said to the ref wasn't out of order or anything like that.

“When you pass and someone slaps a ball down, the whole team will do it. I just explained to him at the end that he gave out to me for waving my arms, but it's an instinctive thing.

“But everything has got to go through Sam this week. Sam seems to have a really good relationship with the refs, especially when he plays for Wales.”

Sexton didn’t start last week’s clash, coming on when his side were chasing the game and he says the Lions are determined to bounce back.

“We need a response, don’t we?” he said.

“If you’d seen the scoreline at the end of last week’s game, you would expect to see a totally different game when you went back and looked at the footage.

“But the way the All Blacks played and beat us was not how they have traditionally beaten teams over the last couple of years.

“They really took us on around the fringes and I think that is what Warren (Gatland) is talking about, in terms of how they stopped us at source and gained a lot of momentum in and around the ruck and through the forwards.

“That is where we need to show our response but they could come with a totally different gameplan this week and we’ve got to be ready for that as well.

“But the weather’s not likely to be great, so it probably will be the same (gameplan).

“It’s a huge challenge but it’s a huge opportunity as well. You don’t get many chances to create history in your career and to turn around a series like this, after going 1-0 down, would go down as one of the greatest Lions performances.”

Sexton only found out he was in the team when it was named on Thursday and said he had no advanced warning that he would be handed the playmaking duties in a twin-out-half strategy alongside Owen Farrell.

“It has been a weird preparation having to try and stay focused not knowing whether you are going to be on the bench or starting,” he admitted.

“I’m delighted to get in there. I get a chance now to impress now and to tie the series hopefully.

“I’m really excited about playing with him. I’ve always admired him. We’ve got on great and stayed in contact since the last tour. We’ve got a good relationship – apart from trying to kill each other at the Aviva last time. We get on great.

“He’s a world-class out-half. But I back myself and hopefully I can bring something to the team this week that will get us over the line.

“I’ve a big respect for him and we have a good relationship so hopefully we can click and make the team play better on Saturday and level the series.”

The last time he started against the world champions, Sexton experienced their furious wrath as they looked to bounce back from the defeat to Ireland in Chicago by winning in Dublin.

Asked if the Lions would need something similar in Wellington this weekend, the Ireland out-half quipped: “I don’t think so because if we did that we’d get a couple of red cards!”

Discipline, he says, is a key focus.

“We need to keep our discipline but we need to show some intent and show what it means to represent the jersey and what that jersey means and let the people at home know there was great effort last week," he said.

“There are just a few areas we need to clean up on but we need to show what it means - and not to lose as many confrontations and physical battles as we did last week.”

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