Sunday 17 December 2017

'You don't lose tour mojo after one bad game' - Sexton bullish on return to form

Sexton bullish on return to form and has positive outlook for a possible Test link-up with Farrell

'The 31-year-old was at his masterly best yesterday morning, guiding the Lions around the Rotorua International Stadium pitch like the world-class No 10 he is' Photo: Getty
'The 31-year-old was at his masterly best yesterday morning, guiding the Lions around the Rotorua International Stadium pitch like the world-class No 10 he is' Photo: Getty
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

In the build-up to yesterday morning's game against the Maori All Blacks, Warren Gatland said Johnny Sexton had gotten his mojo back. By the sounds of things the outhalf doesn't believe it ever went missing.

The 31-year-old was at his masterly best yesterday morning, guiding the Lions around the Rotorua International Stadium pitch like the world-class No 10 he is; playing the conditions brilliantly and bringing a defensive edge to proceedings.

In the build-up, Seán O'Brien said Sexton just needs a cuddle sometimes and there might be queues outside the flanker's room this week after the transformative nature of his embraces.

Two weeks ago, the prospect of Sexton starting against the All Blacks in the opening Test seemed remote after he was hauled ashore just 46 minutes into the opening game against the Provincial Barbarians on the back of a poor outing against the Scarlets in the Guinness PRO12 semi-final, but now he is firmly in the frame to retain the jersey he wore in all three Tests in Australia four years ago.

"The Barbarians game was tough because we arrived Wednesday and we were expected to play on the Saturday," he said after yesterday's 32-10 win. "It was a disappointing start. I didn't know you lose tour mojo after one bad game . . . you are never that far away.

"When things are bad, you get written off. I have been written off hundreds of times in my career and I will probably continue to be until the end but it is important you take it with a pinch of salt at times. Because you know if you work as hard as you always do when things are going well it will eventually turn and as a No 10 you rely on so much around you, so if you have only got two days' preparation for the start of the tour, obviously you are not going to come out firing on all cylinders. I have just got to prepare as best I can and if it is starting, off the bench or otherwise I will just give it my all. That is all you can ask.

"Obviously this (tour) has been at the back of everyone's mind - mine included - since August and September, you've thought about it all year. That's where all the hard work goes into, so I'm desperate to get out there. It's up to the coaches now and obviously Owen [Farrell] is a world-class player and we'll see what they do."

The question is, who will be alongside him? Ben Te'o was superb again in Rotorua yesterday, but the word on Farrell is positive.

Although the coaching staff have insisted Sexton and Farrell hadn't trained together before they found themselves together on the pitch in Christchurch last Saturday when injury forced Jon Davies off early, the Leinster man revealed they had been working together as early as three weeks ago in Carton House. Their time together on tour has been brief, but it was impressive.

"We played 50 minutes together against the Crusaders and I think we went well together," he said. "At times, he was at No 10 and I was able to be his eyes and at other times I was at 10 and he was able to be mine. It's great when you've got somebody at 12 who can help you out that much. When he was at 10, I tried to help him as well. I thought we played well together but it's up to the coaches now.

"We all want to play in the Test team, but it's a 23-man game as well. I'm sure there will be different combinations.

"There's a few drills where you just naturally fall in together. We did a little bit in Carton House, where we weren't put in the same team together but we were, I suppose, doing a drill where at times he was at second receiver and at times I was.

"If you know the game like he does, if he plays 10 or 12, he'll be a huge asset to any team. He's a top-class player."

Yesterday's win over the Maori All Blacks was an impressive statement from the Lions who managed the conditions better than their hosts, but Sexton won't be praying for rain this week.

"When Ireland beat the All Blacks in Chicago when it was 20 degrees sun-splitting," he said. "It's hard to know. They played in greasy conditions (on Friday) and scored (almost) 80 points. It's going to be a different game next week. We have to realise that. It's going to be the toughest game I'd say I have ever played. I have got to make it that way as well. It's all geared up towards next week."

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