Monday 18 December 2017

Perfectionist Sexton preparing for the hardest day of his career

Jonathan Sexton in action during Saturday’s win over the New Zealand Maoris in Rotorua. Photo: PA
Jonathan Sexton in action during Saturday’s win over the New Zealand Maoris in Rotorua. Photo: PA

Jonathan Sexton is preparing for the toughest game of his career.

For the British & Irish Lions to make a competitive series out of it, they have to win the first test at Eden Park.

"It's going to be the toughest game I'd say I have ever played," he said.

This is where the mindset of a champion is revealed. Nothing comes easy for those in continuous pursuit of perfection.

"I have got to make it that way as well," he added.

It is yet to be revealed whether coach Warren Gatland will have Owen Farrell available from a thigh strain.

Either way, there is a solid argument to be made for the inclusion of Sexton at ten.

He was right back to his best in pulling the Maori All Blacks out of position, varying his game and thundering into the tackle on Saturday.

Moreover, Ben Te'o has not been able to fix the biggest problem in his game, making that final pass or even seeing it.

The ex-Leinster centre was at it again on Saturday, breaking the first line of defence only to run away from his support runner Sean O'Brien and up a blind alley.

Gatland has finally broken his silence in the 'fake mind games' with New Zealand's Steve Hansen.

The All Blacks coach has been fairly smug in his comments about his fellow Kiwi and how The Lions will play.

Gatland, not immune to controversial commentary, chose the comprehensive closing down of the New Zealand Maori on Saturday as the right platform to hit back.

"I'm surprised by Steve Hansen, who is normally pretty calm," he said.

"He has been doing a lot of press conferences and I can only take that as a sign of respect in that he is a little bit worried," said Hansen.

"It's unlike Steve and maybe he is worried by potentially how good this team can be.

"All I can say is that this could be a great series with fantastic rugby. Everyone should get excited. Wherever we have been in New Zealand, the welcome has been brilliant, I can't speak more highly of that.

"The off-field stuff, similar to the stuff that people have been saying (in the media), puts a bit of a dampener on the tour.

"But, that's professional sport. You've got to deal with that and move (on)."

Meanwhile, Ireland coach Joe Schmidt will have to take a wait-and-see approach to the second test against Japan in Tokyo next Saturday.

Simon Zebo (knee), Paddy Jackson (shoulder), Finlay Bealham (cut and shoulder), Luke McGrath (eye), Dan Leavy (head stitches), Rhys Ruddock (passed HIA) and Cian Healy (shoulder) will all have to deal with various issues from a fine 50-22 victory over The Brave Blossoms.

The first-half fluency was impressive, Leavy picking up two tries, Keith Earls and Jack Conan one each before Conan, Garry Ringrose and Earls completed the seven-try haul.

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