Sunday 17 December 2017

All Blacks plan to target Johnny Sexton in pivotal second Test

Jonathan Sexton. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Jonathan Sexton. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Centre Anton Lienert-Brown indicated that the world champions have identified the axis of Sexton (pictured) and Owen Farrell as a defensive area they can 'expose'. Photo: Getty
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Johnny Sexton is in the All Black firing line after being recalled to the Lions starting XV for the pivotal second Test of the series tomorrow.

Centre Anton Lienert-Brown indicated that the world champions have identified the axis of Sexton and Owen Farrell as a defensive area they can "expose" and they will be sending their big men down the 10-12 channel in an attempt to make big gains.

Sexton has been selected at out-half alongside Owen Farrell who has moved one out to inside centre and while the world champions believe that combination will bring more to the Lions' attacking game, they are also reckoning that they can be gotten at defensively in the absence of Ben Te'o whose physical presence was an asset at inside centre in the first Test defeat.

Warren Gatland says he has no concerns about their vulnerability, but they are sure to be tested by Sonny Bill Williams and his midfield partner.

"Part of the game-plan was to run down that 10 channel," Lienert-Brown said of last week's 30-15 win.

"They have two 10s there this week and that could be something we look to expose.

"With the two No 10s at first and second they will probably bring a bit more razzle (in attack). It means a different mindset in defence - they are going to be showing different pictures so we have to be prepared to look for those."

Warren Gatland is confident in his playmaking duo.

"They haven't started together but they have had quite a bit of time together," he said. "It gives us two ball-players, two kicking options.

"We need to do a job defensively on Sonny Bill Williams too. He was pretty direct against us and got a couple of offloads away. It's important we try and shut him down.

"We allowed him a bit too much time on the ball last week. I can't remember him passing the ball, but he got some good gainline for them and got a couple of offloads away and got them some front-foot ball. In terms of stopping that, we have to make sure our line-speed is good.

"We have to stop him being as effective as he was and we have been working pretty hard on that."

Meanwhile, Robbie Henshaw could miss the start of the season after it was confirmed that he needs surgery on the injury that ruled him out of the tour. The centre tore his pectoral muscle in Tuesday's draw with the Hurricanes and will return this weekend, going under the knife on Monday.

Irish Independent

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