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Sexton needs Kidney support if he's to run with Lions

ONE has earned his stripes for his club; the other for his country. This is the perception.

Jonathan Sexton and Rhys Priestland are the two frontrunners for the No 10 Test jersey for the British & Irish Lions in Australia next summer.

This is not to suggest that England's Toby Flood or Jonny Wilkinson or even Flood's club-mate George Ford, the son of former Ireland defence coach Mike, are chasing a lost cause.

One long-term injury or one short-term one at the wrong time of the season can scupper the ambition of a Richie Gray or George North or even a Brian O'Driscoll.

The gambler in Wales coach Gatland has shown more faith in Priestland than his more conservative Ireland counterpart Declan Kidney has in Sexton, often springing Ronan O'Gara from the replacements rather than trusting his first choice to close out contests.

This is clearly illustrated by Gatland's decision to promote Priestland ahead of Stephen Jones, a playmaker preferred to O'Gara on the 2005 and 2009 Lions tours to New Zealand and South Africa, respectively.

In 2009, Jones started all three Tests in South Africa with O'Gara relegated to the bench. In 2005, Jones was picked for the first and third Tests, with O'Gara reduced to a bench brief for the third Test.

Moreover, Gatland also had at his disposal the mercurially gifted James Hook at the same time that Kidney had the less valuable Paddy Wallace as his third choice in the position.



Compelling

Priestland has earned 18 caps for the Red Dragons, starting 15 times and playing the full 80 minutes in 10 internationals and for seven of his last eight caps - a compelling 55.5pc.

From Sexton's 32 Ireland caps, he has started 24 times and played out the full 80 minutes on 12 occasions, a less than totally committed 37.5pc, as Kidney refuses to turn away from Ronan O'Gara.

Of course, there is heavy speculation that Gatland will opt for Leinster coach Joe Schmidt - he has already admitted to being "flattered" at any consideration - as his backs coach, a certain ally for Sexton.

The Heineken Cup has been Sexton's godsend. He has convinced those across the water that he has the goods. Three trophies in four years is proof positive that he does do it on the biggest stage.

In contrast, Priestland has been badly hampered by a powder-puff forward pack that has been the Achilles heel of The Scarlets' progress in Europe.

This season, new coach Simon Easterby has been able to recruit heavily in the front five. It could just give Priestland the artillery to unleash the undoubted class on his outside.

The Scarlets have been on fire in the first three rounds of the PRO12 League, blazing away at the head of the table, two points clear of the only other unbeaten club Ulster by virtue of their two bonus-point victories, including a seven-try extravaganza against Leinster.

Priestland has been at the controls for the second and third of these, away to Glasgow and Connacht, where he missed four out of five kicks, in what was rightly called 'The George North Show'.

Sexton announced his start to the season with 14 points and a last-minute drop goal that sailed through the Benetton Treviso posts from fully 45 metres.

This is a head-to-head worth watching. Priestland will have the Lions coach Gatland in his corner. Sexton could have the yet-to-be-named backs coach Schmidt in his.

What Sexton really needs is for his national coach Kidney to show the same belief in him as his club coach Schmidt in what is bound to be an influential autumn and 2013 Six Nations.


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