Tuesday 23 July 2019

Johnny Sexton urging team-mates to earn place in Lions folklore

Johnny Sexton believes it would be "one of the greatest Lions performances" if they secure Test series glory against world champions New Zealand.

The Lions' long and illustrious history is littered with memorable victories, but they now need successive wins in Wellington and Auckland to deny the All Blacks after losing last weekend's opening clash at Eden Park.

And Ireland star Sexton, who lines up at fly-half with Owen Farrell moving to inside centre, has no doubt where the achievement would rank if they can turn things round.

"It's a huge challenge, but it's a huge opportunity as well," Sexton said.

"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.

"We need to view it as an opportunity rather than as a daunting challenge. That is the view we are taking. We have got to go and attack them and give it our best and see where that takes us.

"We need a response, don't we? If you had seen the scoreline at the end of last week's game (the Lions lost 30-15), 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, 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 game-plan this week, and we've got to be ready for that as well.

"If we can play to our potential and clean up some of the mistakes we made last week, and that discipline, I think we will be able to push them a lot closer and get the win."

The Sexton-Farrell axis has been the Lions' headline selection for Saturday, and Sexton is relishing a prospect of playing alongside someone who he rates and respects highly.

"I am really excited about playing with him," Sexton added. "I have always admired him.

"We've got on great and stayed in contact since the last (Lions) tour. We've got a good relationship - apart from trying to kill each other at the Aviva Stadium (when Ireland played England) last time! We get on great.

"I was asked whether it was the biggest challenge of my career to try to get ahead of Owen, and because of the respect I have for him I said yes.

"He is a world-class outside-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."

Sexton, meanwhile, was spoken to by referee Jaco Peyper during the first Test for waving his arms at the officials after a penalty was awarded.

"Things happen in the heat of battle where you wave your arms," Sexton said.

"What I said to him (referee) 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.

"But everything has got to go through Sam (Lions captain Sam Warburton) this week. Sam seems to have a really good relationship with the refs, especially when he plays for Wales."

PA Media

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