Tuesday 22 August 2017

Sexton: 'Talking about making history is not going to win you the game'

Jonathan Sexton urges Lions to keep focus as he tells Conor George how tourists must 'attack more' to ride out Wallaby backlash

Jonathan Sexton at training in Melbourne yesterday
Jonathan Sexton at training in Melbourne yesterday
Conor George

Conor George

JONATHAN SEXTON can inspire with his words. This we know from the tales that have leaked from inside the Leinster and Ireland dressing-rooms over the years.

There's the now famous call to arms at half-time of Leinster's 2011 Heineken Cup final against Northampton, when his words galvanised the side and led to a second-half resurgence that yielded a second title.

More importantly, Sexton inspires by his deeds on the pitch. It's to him the Lions will look for leadership and guidance in today's potentially decisive second Test, for he is the conductor of the orchestra.

If Sexton plays well, his team invariably plays well.

Indeed, according to former Wallaby great Stephen Larkham, Sexton was the main reason for the Lions' victory last weekend.

"He controls the game exceptionally well and is dangerous in attack," said World Cup-winning out-half Larkham.

"He has also stepped up defensively. His game last week was key to their victory."

It's not a responsibility Sexton takes lightly. He will call the Lions' plays this morning.

It is he who will direct their challenge and, by the nature of the out-half's responsibilities, he is first in line for praise or for criticism, whichever is appropriate.

"When you're an out-half you have to make a decision for the team," said Sexton.

"Sometimes you might have a situation where it's five on three in your favour but because you're inside your own half or because of the score at the time the best thing is to get rid of the ball.


"That's part and parcel of the position, making those decisions. It's a hard position to play. Making those decisions does get a little easier the more experienced you get, but they're never easy at the same time."

Sexton will seek to inspire by his actions today.

Indeed, yesterday he left no one in any doubt – the time for talking is over... it's time for action.

"Throughout the day, before the game, I'll talk when I have to. I'll have a word with certain players to make sure they know the plays and know their roles," he said.

"But talking about making history is not going to win you the game. It's about executing the moves, the game plan, being good in defence and stopping their moves."

The reference to the potential for the 2013 Lions to make history is one that has followed them all week. Every conversation the players have had outside of their own company has been about the fact that it's 16 years since the Lions won.

Sexton acknowledged that is something that drives them, but he is also mindful of not getting caught up in the prospect of doing so.

"As a player you want to be remembered when you hang up the boots and be talked about in years to come, and this is our chance on a Lions scale," said Sexton.

"There's not many who have done it and it's a chance to put yourself into the history books.

"A lot of people have done it at club level, have done it at Grand Slam level, but none of us here have done it with the Lions.

"It'll be a pretty special dressing-room if we can do the business and we'll forever be remembered for it.

"But you have to park that responsibility and treat this like any other game, albeit with bigger rewards, or you get caught up in it too much."

The added pressure for Sexton this weekend is his lack of game time alongside new scrum-half partner Ben Youngs – "we played a little at the end of the Reds game" – but the Irish pivot is confident they will gel without issue today.

"We've had the week together. He's different to Mike (Phillips) as a player but they have similarities too. He is quick, has a good break, is a good passer.

"It's the nature of these tours, you don't always get a lot of time to build relationships but we're on the same wavelength."

Sexton admits to waking up yesterday morning to a flurry of butterflies, which is a good sign for him before big games – "you only get this feeling before the big games. This is a massive one" – and over the years he has learned to control them and use them to his advantage.

He maintained that it's only with a few hours to go to kick-off today that he'll be conscious of them again, and by then he'll have enough to occupy his mind and attention – not least how to keep a tight control on the returning Tommy Bowe.

"Tommy will be constantly calling plays on himself in the game!" chuckled Sexton. "I'll have to control him a little bit!

"I'm delighted he's back. It's pretty phenomenal. He was down when he thought his tour was over and it was a shame because he was in unbelievable form.

"He'll bring a lot to us in terms of his ability in the air, his strike running, and his work-rate off the ball is brilliant.

"He's made for the ball, which is great with wingers. You want them to be in your ear looking for it all the time ... which Tommy does!"

Sexton will be on the Australians' radar this morning, just as James O'Connor will be on the Lions' – "I thought he did well last week. He's a threat with ball in hand," said Sexton – and the Dubliner revealed that there is more to come from him and the Lions.

"We weren't able to fully execute our game plan last week," he said. "We didn't show too much to be truthful because of how the game went.

"We'll look to attack them more this weekend. This is going to be a step up again from last week in every sense and we have to be prepared for that.

"Australia are going to throw everything at us and with the players they have it's important to keep them in their own half for as long as possible.

"We didn't gloss over our mistakes because we won. Had Kurtley Beale's kick at the end gone over we'd be in a very different place and we're very conscious of that.

"We have a chance to do things on our terms this weekend. We know Australia are going to be better. It's up to us to be better too."

Irish Independent

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