Opening weekend sees battle for Lions no 10 between Sexton and Farrell heat up
IT will be the most talked about clashes over the coming week and Jonathan Sexton’s head-to-head battle with England’s Owen Farrell could decide the match and who wears the number 10 shirt for the Lions in Australia.
His nomination for 2012 International Rugby Board player of the year, alongside Dan Carter, Richie McCaw and Frédéric Michalak may have raised eyebrows but Farrell’s command display against the Scots on Saturday provides a mouthwatering subplot to this weekend’s action at the Aviva.
Sexton, regarded by most observers as one of the first names on the Lions teamsheet and soon to become the most highly paid player in the game, will be gunning for the pretender when the two meet in on Sunday.
“I can learn a lot of things from him because he’s an outstanding player. His controlling of the game is really good and he can do a lot of little things that others don’t do,” Farrell said of Sexton.
“I’ve watched him for a long time and I can take a lot from him. It’s about being in the right place at the right time to have time and he knows where he should be. He has a lot of experience of playing in big games and knows exactly what he’s doing.”
Farrell is not applying for Lions back-up roles: “There’s a lot of rugby to be played before then and anything can happen. If you take your focus off what is in front of you then bad things can happen.”
Meanwhile, England scrum-half Ben Youngs is determined to go from "idiot" to inspiration.
The Leicester scrum-half suffered one of the toughest days of his career at the Aviva Stadium two years ago, when England's Grand Slam bid was demolished by Ireland.
Youngs was sin-binned for petulantly throwing the ball away in England's 24-8 defeat and afterwards admitted: "I've played like an idiot but I have to man up and take it on the chin. This is a good test of character. Let's see what I am made of."
Youngs is ready to prove he has lived up to his word and emerged from that bitter experience a better player.
"I'm a far better player now after that experience," said after helping England open their Six Nations campaign with a 38-18 win against Scotland.
"To lose the Grand Slam is never nice. I got sin-binned and things just didn't go my way.
"As hard as it is to deal with those moments and games, I am a strong believer that as you make mistakes you get better.
"It was a day at the office where I made a fair few mistakes. That day and getting bumped out of the World Cup [were my lowest points].
"It was a lot to handle but I certainly came out the other side a far better player.
"I'd rather have taken a Grand Slam. But saying that, you have to go through those hard times and defeats because it makes you learn very, very quickly.
"This side want to minimise that - we want to learn whilst winning."
England did win the the 2011 Six Nations title despite their defeat in Dublin but they will return a very different side following Stuart Lancaster's revolution, a younger side but a smarter side.
"You can't compare it now to how it was back then," Youngs said.
"I think we probably tried to play too much rugby in the first 20 minutes and I don't think we understood what was coming at us.
"A lot of young guys from that squad are now two years wiser from club games, Test matches and Heineken games - they all add up.
"Look around the changing room and there is a huge amount of experience and also a huge amount of enthusiasm from the young guys as well. That helps drive the team.
"Stuart has come in and the long-term goal is 2015. That wasn't mentioned previously - then it was one tournament at a time, and now the goal is to get to 2015 at our peak.
"This is a journey on the way. Guys are just excited about the challenges."