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Tuesday 25 July 2017

Gatland: Jonny has to stay fit

Lion coach worried over Sexton's durability in NZ

Warren Gatland (head coach), Rob Howley (backs coach), Andy Farrell (defence coach) and Steve Borthwick (forwards coach) during the 2017 British & Irish Lions Coaching Team
announcement held at Carton
House in Maynooth yesterday.
Pic: Getty Images
Warren Gatland (head coach), Rob Howley (backs coach), Andy Farrell (defence coach) and Steve Borthwick (forwards coach) during the 2017 British & Irish Lions Coaching Team announcement held at Carton House in Maynooth yesterday. Pic: Getty Images

British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland has admitted Jonathan Sexton's lack of durability could count against the out-half when it comes to the tour of New Zealand next June.

At present, Sexton has been stood down from Leinster duty in order to make his body what Joe Schmidt called "more robust", through a strength and conditioning block ahead of the Six Nations.

What must seem like the last thing Sexton wanted to hear right now could be the best thing to happen to him, in terms of what is coming in the second half of the season.

"Obviously, Johnny hasn't played a lot of rugby recently," said Gatland, at the announcement of the Lions coaching ticket out in Carton House yesterday.

"You want him to get through the Six Nations."

Thereafter, Gatland has to make a judgement based on form, fitness and character.

"It's making sure I do my job properly," he stated.

"You look at the quality of someone like Johnny Sexton and the experience he's had," he continued.

"The conversation with Jonny might be: 'We might take you on tour. There's been a little bit of concern about your durability.

'If you do pick up a knock or an injury and you're out for a couple of weeks, the quality of the squad is that, someone else could step into your shoes and when you come back, normally when you come back in an Irish situation, it doesn't matter how long you've been out, you go straight back into the team as the number one.

'If you come into a Lions situation, if someone is playing well, you might not be going back into that starting side as a 10.

'You might be sitting on the bench or not involved'," stated Gatland.

'How are you going to be able to handle that? Are you going to be prepared for that? What's your attitude around the team and squad going to be like?'

"If I'm doing my job properly, I've had that conversation with him and, potentially, he's got his head right and he's prepared for that potential eventuality if it does happen."

The confrontational nature of Sexton's personality comes from a deep desire to win.

He just can't abide lowering his standards.

It is his strong character that makes him a great player and a demanding one for those around him.

"The Lions can be a different sort of animal or beast when you have the quality of players to choose from. It's different.

"From his point of view, the next few months and the Six Nations are important for him.

"A couple of other players have done alright for Ireland - Paddy Jackson and the young boy (Joey) Carbery looks alright for the future as well.

"I think Jonny knows he's probably under a little bit of pressure to be fit and to perform too."

There's a lot of ball to be played between now and the day four colours bleed into one to become the British & Irish Lions.

For the moment, Gatland is in position to call out Ireland's Andy Farrell as his defence coach, England's Steve Borthwick as his forwards coach and Rob Howley as his attack coach.

He will dress up his backroom team with a second attack coach and, perhaps, a scrum coach as well as an extensive support staff at an unspecified date.

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