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'A bit of a cuddle' just the trick to put Sexton back on top form, says Sean O'Brien

The Tullow Tank also rubbished the notion that there is an ‘aura’ of invincibility to the World Champion All Blacks.

Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

IRELAND AND LIONS openside Sean O’Brien knows as well as anyone how Leinster team-mate Jonathan Sexton ticks.

The out-half has played his way out of a stodgy run of form on this Lions tour and with Owen Farrell nursing an injury, Sexton takes the wheel for the ‘unofficial fourth Test’ against the NZ Maori tomorrow in Rotorua.

When it’s mentioned that Sexton’s notoriously choleric moods are bad enough without poor form to underline it, O’Brien jokes:

“Yeah, you just give Johnny a bit of a cuddle sometimes and he perks back up and gets his head back in the game.

“He’s a competitor, he doesn’t like losing and that can be tough. He puts a bit of pressure on himself at times, but I wouldn’t have him any other way. I’d rather him barking and yapping at us than not saying a word.”

Sean O'Brien, Jonathan Sexton and defence coach Andy Farrell Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Possession of the number 10 jersey would appear to provide a natural book-end to Sexton’s sharp dip in form during O’Brien’s spell on the sidelines. However, there is still a widely held presumption that Farrell will be first choice for Warren Gatland if and when he is fit. The Tullow Tank doesn’t see the exterior view of that pecking order as anything that will concern Sexton however.

Johnny prepares himself as professionally as anyone else. It doesn’t matter to him whether Owen’s fit or not fit. Johnny’s looking after himself first and foremost, getting his stuff sorted and his role within the environment right and that will help everyone else.”

“You’ll get the normal Johnny. Johnny is one of these guys who’s a perfectionist and that’s the way he’ll want it at the weekend and he knows that everything doesn’t go to plan, but he tries to get it there. He will prepare lie he normally does for a game and he is excited about what’s ahead.”

He added: “He was really sharp and (the win over Crusaders) was probably a difficult game to come into as well off the bench, but he was up to speed straight away. Yeah, he did look sharp and he was crisp again, and bossing us around like Johnny does. You know he’s on it when he’s giving out to you a lot.”

That sort of persistent aggression from number 10 will be valuable when the Lions confront the world champions in the first of the three-Test series next weekend. However, O’Brien rubbished the notion that there is an ‘aura’ about these All Blacks.

“An aura? In terms of what?” O’Brien responded sharply, with the responding question  paraphrasing Denis Leamy, who had suggested New Zealand exuded an ‘unbeatable’ quality.

Sean O'Brien O'Brien poses for the press photos in Rotorua. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“You look back years ago and you’re referencing Leams and Irish teams who wouldn’t have expected to beat the All Blacks years ago,” says O’Brien. We’re in the post-Chicago era of Irish rugby now.

“I’d be lying if I said that we shouldn’t be expecting to beat the All Blacks with the calibre of player we have and the depth of squad we have.

“I don’t see an aura in terms of them being unbeatable. They’re a group of guys exactly like us who play rugby, anything can happen on the day.”

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