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Monday 17 December 2018

Sexton aiming to even it up

Ireland have to match Aussies' aggression

All set: Jonathan Sexton during Ireland squad training at St Kevin’s College in Melbourne
All set: Jonathan Sexton during Ireland squad training at St Kevin’s College in Melbourne

Jonathan Sexton has to have that sense of déjà vu.

The Ireland maestro was reduced to a front row seat on the bench as the British & Irish Lions slipped to a 20-8 deficit at Eden Park before losing out 30-15 last June.

He made a big enough difference when he came on to be promoted to start the second test, which the Lions won, and the third, which they drew for a break-even series.

"I actually didn't think of that comparison," he said in Melbourne yesterday.

This is a measure of the tunnel vision employed by the veteran out-half ahead of trying to claw back this three-match series.

Last Saturday, the 32-year-old had to sit behind someone (Joey Carbery) for the first time since Ronan O'Gara played ahead of him at the 2011 Rugby World Cup in what was a strange experience.

Before Ireland could look forward to Saturday, they had to endure the pain of looking back at last Saturday.

"You learn a lot when you lose," he said. "Now, we've got to bounce back. We've got to show a reaction and we've got to perform a hell of a lot better than we did last week.

"If you lose a game, if you can look back and say, 'we played as well as we can and we did everything we can,' you can live with it, to a certain extent," he mulled.

"But, there were parts of the game we have looked back on and say, 'we didn't quite do that good enough.'"

This all comes down to that old cliché of 'leaving it all out on the field.' It cannot just be explained away as complete commitment, but complete commitment within the parameters of the game plan.

"Look, we could go out and play absolutely brilliant this week and still not get the right result because we are in Australia, playing against a very good team with very good players," he continued.

"That is the nature of coming down at the end of the season and playing tests down here.

"At least, let's play our best and see where that gets us."

The leaders are there to pick up those who may not have had to deal with the fallout of losing big matches.

Bounce

This is where human nature kicks in.

There is not the same bounce in all the steps, the same rhythm of optimism at the beginning of the week.

There are also the unique elements of playing in the southern hemisphere, the "off the charts" speed of the game referenced by Peter O'Mahony, for example.

It means everything is happening a second faster which, in turn, means decisions have to be made a touch quicker.

"The reviews are always the same," said Sexton.

"You know, we are very performance driven.

"There have been times when we've won, in the recent past, where the coaches haven't been happy with what we've done."

It doesn't all come down to the withering account handed down by Joe Schmidt.

There are the high standards of defence coach Andy Farrell to be met as well.

"Even when we were winning in the Six Nations and conceding tries in the last 15-20 minutes and Faz' isn't happy or there are other parts of the game where the other coaches aren't happy.

"I don't think we implemented our plan as the coaches would have liked and this is the disappointing thing.

"If we had sneaked a win on Saturday, the review would have still have been the same."

Sexton and Michael Cheika have a long and enduring relationship.

They share more in common than they have differences as two out-and-out winners.

The Wallabies played with all the passion of their coach.

"We expected it," said Sexton.

"Any team that plays under Michael Cheika will bring that and we spoke about that.

"We know him better than anyone, really.

"We knew it was coming. We probably didn't deal with it as good as we could have, in terms of allowing them to come out of the line and hit us like they did.

"I am sure they will bring the same intensity this week.

"Michael is a pretty relentless character and he will demand the same."

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