Tuesday 17 October 2017

'This could be my last game as a Lion' - Johnny Sexton hoping to channel 'worse than ever' nerves

Jonathan Sexton during a British and Irish Lions press conference at The Pullman Hotel in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Jonathan Sexton during a British and Irish Lions press conference at The Pullman Hotel in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Nick Purewal

Johnny Sexton will know he is ready for the British and Irish Lions' Test series decider with New Zealand when his pre-match nerves are "worse than ever".

The Ireland fly-half will direct the Lions' back line in tandem with England playmaker Owen Farrell in Saturday's third and final Test in Auckland.

The 31-year-old admitted that the nerves never leave him - but the Leinster star insisted he can turn that to his advantage this weekend.

The Lions can notch just their second-ever Test series win in New Zealand on Saturday, but to do so Warren Gatland's men must end the All Blacks' 39-match unbeaten streak at Eden Park.

"I struggle sometimes with the nerves but this is once-in-a-lifetime stuff, so you have to treasure it," said Sexton.

"Sometimes they get easier, then other times they are worse than ever - especially when you consider this type of game.

"Potentially it's your last in a Lions shirt as you don't know what is down the line.

"You try and control the nerves the best you can and use them to your advantage. If you weren't nervous I would be pretty worried.

"I would say there will be a lot of pretty nervous boys come Saturday. We will use our experiences to get over the line.

"It's down to the last game - two different sides and we are playing against the World Cup winners, but we are a better Lions side than four years ago.

"We have to cherish the atmosphere, it does not come around too often. You have got to try and enjoy it.

"The support we have had out here has been incredible. It shows how good Lions tours are and how much it means to people in the professional game."

Head coach Warren Gatland believes the Lions have only "scratched the surface" on their attacking potential, having conjured two second-half tries to edge home 24-21 in last weekend's second Test.

Sexton and Farrell dovetailed at 10 and 12 last weekend and will reprise that dual playmaker set-up on Saturday.

Sexton has full faith in his partnership with Farrell - but still insisted the pair must raise the level against an agitated All Blacks side, who last week lost at home for the first time since 2009.

Sexton admitted the Lions know full well the impact of Sonny Bill Williams' red card last week.

"We showed glimpses of what we can do last week, so we're pretty excited to see where it all gets us," said Sexton.

"But we aren't getting ahead of ourselves, we know we won against 14 men and we made things tough for ourselves at the start of the second half.

"So we need to look at that period and why we made it tough for ourselves. The best teams learn their lessons in victory as well as defeat.

"I've really enjoyed playing alongside Owen, it's great to have someone feeding in good information.

"At times last week he was first receiver and I was pushed out so that was good.

"We get on really well off the pitch, which helps, and hopefully we can improve again for Saturday and we need to.

"There were parts that were really good and parts we need to be better at.

"Hopefully we can put it together with Jonathan Davies as well who's playing well and get him into the game as much as possible."

Ireland suffered a backlash from New Zealand on November 19 last year when the All Blacks bludgeoned to a 21-9 victory in Dublin.

Joe Schmidt's Ireland side felt the brunt of the All Blacks' anger for having the temerity to topple the back-to-back world champions 40-29 in Chicago on November 5.

Sexton insisted however that the Lions must match New Zealand's fury as a given this weekend - then bid to dismantle Steve Hansen's side to boot.

"We need to match them first and after that find another way to beat them," said Sexton.

"They will be hurting after losing, they don't lose too often so they will be hurting. We need to match it.

"The game in the Aviva, it became physical, but we had chances in that game.

"We can talk about how physical it will be and how intense, but it comes down to who takes the chances and who plays better.

"Match them in the first 10, 20 minutes and then impose ourselves on them."

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