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Dublin: 8°C Wednesday 24 February 2021

Sexton taking history lessons to give Lions claws in attack

The Lions out half knows this is his chance to make the most out of a short career.

Image: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

JONATHAN SEXTON IS learning fast.

The mood in the Lions camp is completely different from the one he had grown used to seven days ago.

Some players have gone, some have returned to fitness. With the Rebels marking the end of the midweek tour matches, however, Sexton has noticed a divide of sorts.

While one group of 23 is gearing up for one of the biggest games of their lives, some of the remainder must have accepted that their tour has been reduced to the roll of tackle-bag-holding-cheerleader.

“We were just talking about how everyone is on complete different wavelengths.” Sexton said today. “The guys who aren’t involved are just a million miles away from where we are mentally.

“It’s strange being in that environment where some lads are so relaxed and some are dealing with nerves. We spoke about it already. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to win a test sees in Australia and we’ve got a chance to do it against Australia.”

Once in a lifetime might seem a touch close to the glossy Sky coverage. But Sexton has spent his entire professional life in a dressing room with a man who is acutely aware of how rare this kind of win actually can be.

When Brian O’Driscoll lit up the Gabba with his iconic try in 2001, the prospect of this missing feather from his bow was unthinkable.

“Brian obviously put it into perspective [to the squad]. He was here 12 years ago and the chance slipped by,” Sexton says. ”12 year’s late this is his next opportunity. It’s not something that comes along too often.”

‘Do it for Paulie’

The France-bound out-half is only too aware of how short a career at the top of rugby’s tree is. He says that the squad are out to ‘do it for Paul O’Connell and Brian O’Driscoll. Of the Munster man, he says gravely, “if we win, he can say he was part of a squad that won a Test series.”

It’s four years since his belated chance to steer Leinster came in the form of a Felipe Contepomi injury. 28 next month, a second chance with the Lions is by no means a certainty for him.

“I think, as a player, you want to be remembered when you hang up the boots. You want to be talked about in years to come and this is our chance.”

13 months ago Sexton was the one leading calls for Leinster to create a dynasty by adding a Pro12 title to their Heineken Cup. He plays and thinks like an impatient man.

“There’s not many that have done it. It’s a chance to put yourself in that category.” He continues.

©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

“A lot of us have done it at club level a few have  Grand Slams at international level, but none of us here have done it with the British and Irish lions. So, It will be a pretty special dressing room if we can do the business.”

Before that business can be completed, the former St Mary’s man must pull the strings of a Lions gameplan which he admits failed to fire in Brisbane.

“We didn’t show too much, we just drove a lot of line-outs which wasn’t exactly the plan.

“We’ll look to attack them this week, like we did last week – we didn’t really get a chance, but we’ll have a go.”

Out to get him

The Elephant-sized wallaby in the room is the host. Having narrowly missed out on a first Test win, Australia will feel hard done by coming into the second skirmish. Under Deans the Wallabies have continued to show poor form in the opening weeks of the season and Sexton expects nothing less than improvement within the gold shirts out to get him.

“They’re obviously going to throw everything at us. we expected that last week and they’ll do it next week as well. That’s Test match rugby. You expect nothing less, especially with the Australians 1-0 down.

“I know it’s 12 years ago, but we have to take the lessons from then. If they win the second test they’ve got the momentum. We’ve got the chance now and we have to make sure we go out and”

“We spoke about [2001] during the week, but now we’re very much down to performance on the pitch and producing that.

“Talking about history isn’t going to win you the game it’s about executing moves that we planned and the gameplan and being good in defence and stopping their threats.”

But then, he’s known that for a while.

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Sean Farrell

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