Saturday 16 December 2017

Sexton is left to wait for shot at Test redemption

Provincial Barbarians 7 Lions 13

Anthony Watson of the British and Irish Lions beats the tackle of Luteru Laulala of the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians on his way to scoring his side's try. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Anthony Watson of the British and Irish Lions beats the tackle of Luteru Laulala of the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians on his way to scoring his side's try. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

When Owen Farrell removed his tracksuit top with the clock ticking toward the 48th minute on Saturday, you knew that there was little chance he'd be joining Johnny Sexton as part of an experimental 10-12 axis.

No, this was a rescue mission and the Saracens out-half was the first man in to help salvage what was left of the Lions. Sexton was floundering and relief was needed.

Sam Warburton.
Sam Warburton.

Farrell barely shot the lights out, but he did see the ship home; playing a part in the winning try and adding a touchline conversion for good measure. Sexton watched on from the bench, wondering if he'd get another chance to establish his Test credentials.

It seems incredible that a player of his stature could come into this tour with doubts over his place, but he summed up his own doubts before this game when he spoke of Farrell's position as favourite for a Test start.

Sexton played like the weight of the world was on his shoulders, while the 25-year-old England international was all confidence and strut.

The Ireland No 10 will sit out Wednesday's clash with the Auckland Blues and must use this time to regather himself and find a way of re-establishing his confidence in his own brilliant abilities. Otherwise, his tour will be over before it's begun.

Rhys Webb of the British & Irish Lions during the match. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Rhys Webb of the British & Irish Lions during the match. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

It was almost that way for the Lions as a whole, as they found themselves in an arm wrestle with a team of little pedigree and needed Anthony Watson's second-half try to get them over the line.

Few players impressed and Warren Gatland was keen to highlight the effect of their long journey to New Zealand on their efforts.

But this is a short, unforgiving tour and with 41 players there won't be many windows to impress.

For Sexton, Iain Henderson and Stuart Hogg in particular, there is much ground to make up.

Stuart Hogg of the British & Irish Lions is tackled by Sam Vaka of the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Stuart Hogg of the British & Irish Lions is tackled by Sam Vaka of the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

"We've only had game one and players just have to know that it is a long tour and there will be plenty of opportunities to put your hand up," captain Sam Warburton said.

"Some guys will take a few games to get into their rhythm and that's why these warm-up games are so important. By no means will anyone have ruled themselves in or out with this one game.

"Players know, we're not stupid, after three or four games you can kind of pencil in what the Test team will be. We've got two weeks now where it really is a big audition to get in that Test team."

Gatland has said he'll field something close to the Test team against the Maori on Saturday week having given everyone a start in the first three games. That means Sexton's next chance to wear the No 10 shirt won't come for another week.

Quality "Johnny's a quality player," Ben Te'o, one of the few to impress, said of his former Leinster team-mate.

Jonathan Joseph of the British & Irish Lions
Jonathan Joseph of the British & Irish Lions

"We've all seen the big games and how well he plays. He's probably not happy with some of the things with how it went tonight. I definitely think he's going to grow into it. He hasn't played a lot of rugby in the last few months. A few more sessions and he'll be fine."

The tour goes on and 15 new starters will get the chance to impress on Wednesday against a far better opponent.

If the Lions play as badly, then it will be a long night and a long tour. The jet-lag should have cleared, they have had more time together and they'll hope that they can convert the kind of chances they passed up on Saturday.

They might have won comfortably had Hogg not been so profligate and Gatland lamented their getting over the line four times with little reward.

Conversely, they might have been chasing the game further had it not been for a sensational tackle by their best player Taulupe Faletau.

They got over the line and are keen to move on. Many of them will be hoping another chance comes their way quickly.

PROVINCIAL BARBARIANS - L Laulala (J Webber 59); S Vaka, I Finau (J Lowe 19), D Sweeney, S Reece; B Gatland, J Stratton (R Judd 56); A Ross (T Fahamokioa 75), S Anderson-Heather (capt) (A Makalio h-t), O Jager (M Renata 75); J Goodhue, K Mewett (P Rowe 62); J Tucker, L Boshier (M Matich 44), M Dunshea.

LIONS - S Hogg; A Watson, J Joseph, B Te'o, T Seymour; J Sexton (O Farrell 49), G Laidlaw (R Webb 58); J Marler (M Vunipola 50), R Best (J George 50), K Sinckler (T Furlong 50); AW Jones, I Henderson (G Kruis 50); R Moriarty, S Warburton (capt) (J Tipuric 67), T Faletau.

Ref - A Gardiner (Australia)

Indo Sport

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport