Wednesday 20 September 2017

'Sometimes you have to give Johnny a bit of a cuddle and he perks back up' - Sean O’Brien has been helping Johnny Sexton

Owen Farrell, left, and Jonathan Sexton
Owen Farrell, left, and Jonathan Sexton

Ruaidhri O’Connor in Rotorua

Sean O'Brien never had any doubt that Johnny Sexton was going to recover his form ahead of the Lions Test series, but stepped in with a bit of brotherly love for his long-time Leinster and Ireland team-mate who leads the tourist's backline tomorrow night.

The focus on Sexton has ramped up again given the major doubts over Owen Farrell who damaged his thigh in training on Thursday morning and was withdrawn from the bench for tomorrow morning's meeting with the Maori All Blacks in Rotorua.

After finishing his season on a bum note with Leinster, the out-half got off to a poor start on tour and was hauled ashore after only 46 minutes of the first game against the Provincial Barbarians.

He has played his way back into form, however, and Warren Gatland believes he recaptured his "mojo" against the Crusaders last Saturday.

And O'Brien believes he is back to his best.

"You just give Johnny a bit of a cuddle sometimes and he perks back up and gets his head back in the game," he said.

Sean O'Brien during a British and Irish Lions training session at the Rotorua International Stadium
Sean O'Brien during a British and Irish Lions training session at the Rotorua International Stadium

"He's a competitor, he doesn't like losing and that can be tough. He puts a bit of pressure on himself at times, but I wouldn't have him any other way. I'd rather him barking and yapping at us than not saying a word.

"You'll get the normal Johnny. Johnny is one of these guys who's a perfectionist and that's the way he'll want it at the weekend and he knows that everything doesn't go to plan, but he tries to get it there.

"He will prepare like he normally does for a game and he is excited about what's ahead.

Johnny prepares himself as professionally as anyone else. It doesn't matter to him whether Owen is fit or not fit. Johnny is looking after himself first and foremost and getting his stuff sorted, getting his role within the environment right and that'll help everyone else.

"He was really sharp and it was probably a difficult game to come into as well off the bench, but he was up to speed straight away.

"He was crisp again, and bossing us around like Johnny does. You know he's on it when he's giving out to you a lot.

"He was really sharp (against the Crusaders) and it was probably a difficult game to come into as well off the bench, but he was up to speed straight away. Yea, he did look sharp and he was crisp again, and bossing us around like Johnny does. You know he's on it when he's giving out to you a lot."

While O'Brien acknowledged that Farrell would be a loss if he was ruled out of the Tests, the Tullow man does not see it as a catastrophic moment.

"I don't know if it will be a major blow to the squad," he said.

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"Obviously losing somebody to an injury and he's not up for selection is obviously a blow for the wider picture but with the calibre of player we have within the environment - you have Ben (Te'o), Jon Davies, you've Robbie (Henshaw), you've a lot of lads there who can cover that kind of 10/12 position, and Johnny obviously will be pulling the strings.

"So there's other lads there to fill that void.

"Faz obviously has a lot of experience and has been playing very, very well, and he's a good leader for us. He will be a loss obviously but with the quality of lads we have in someone else can fill that slot."

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