Tuesday 18 June 2019

Johnny Sexton: Lions should have won series in New Zealand

Leinster players Jack McGrath, Johnny Sexton and Tadhg Furlong at the launch of Leinster's new Canterbury home jersey for the 2017/18 season Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Leinster players Jack McGrath, Johnny Sexton and Tadhg Furlong at the launch of Leinster's new Canterbury home jersey for the 2017/18 season Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

A wry smile comes across Johnny Sexton's face when he mentions the idea of him touring with the Lions again in 2021 and, for a second at least, you wonder if he's serious.

"There's always another one! My wife would kill me. I was joking," he clarifies with a grin.

But yet with Sexton and his insatiable desire to remain at the top, there isn't too much that you would put past him.

After all, here is a player who many had written off after he failed to start the first Lions Test but the manner in which he bounced back from that setback to play a key role in the drawn series is a mark of his character.

Sexton was amongst a host of players who underperformed in the opening game of the tour when the Lions scraped a win against the Provincial Barbarians but, as he explains, in the dressing room afterwards there was a shared feeling amongst the squad that the game was played under conditions that no one had ever experienced before.

Challenge "We played two days after arriving in New Zealand," Sexton explains.

"We spoke about it together, a lot of the guys who played. We don't think we have ever played a match feeling worse, mentally and physically. It was always going to be a challenge. I didn't get too hung up on that game. I just prepared for that game as best as I could and tried my best.

"Sometimes it comes off for you and sometimes it doesn't. You are not that far away from a good game or a bad game, especially in my position.

"One miscommunication or the ball goes out on the full by a metre when if it had stayed in it was a try. There are lots of small margins which can be easily fixed up and they did get fixed as the tour moved on."

For a serial winner like Sexton, a drawn Test series is never going to be considered 'mission accomplished' but relentlessly playing through the pain barrier and fighting his way back into the number 10 shirt has to hold a huge amount of personal satisfaction - if not now, then in years to come.

"When you draw, it is an anti-climax. You're not too happy; not too sad," the out-half maintains.

"It is only after your holiday you look back on it. I thought we should have won it if we had played at our best in that third Test.

"It is disappointing. At the same time, a lot of people are proud of what we did down there. We can take satisfaction from that.

"We all went down there to try and win a series. Even in that first Test, the way they scored a couple of tries and we didn't take our chances. From a rugby point of view, it was one that got away."

At 32 and having missed plenty of rugby over the last couple of seasons, Sexton still believes that he has plenty of miles left on the clock yet.

The Lions tour might have provided some relief after Leinster crashed out of the PRO12 at the semi-final stage in front of their home supporters but when he rocked up to UCD this week, the disappointment came flooding back.

"It's definitely hard," he concedes.

"The last game for whatever team you played for, whether it's Leinster or the Lions, you remember it until you play your next one. It was a really disappointing day for everyone involved, personally and collectively.

"We're trying to figure out why things went so bad and we need to come up with answers, learn from it and be better for it going into next season.

"I feel hungry. Last season was a disappointment in many ways so I'm hungry and want to keep going. I can't say how long for because no-one knows.

"You see guys like Donncha O'Callaghan and Peter Stringer still going to their 40th and Rory Best playing on a Lions tour, turning 35 this month, in a few days I think, he won't thank me for telling people that.

"It gives you hope if you look after yourself. You've got people coming in keeping you fresh and hungry; Stuart (Lancaster) at Leinster, guys coming in with Ireland and Joe (Schmidt) still being there, Faz (Andy Farrell) came in last year really bringing more to the party.

"We'll see how long (I keep playing for), I don't know..."

It might not be music to his wife's ears but there is plenty of life in the old dog yet.

Irish Independent

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