Sexton in training last month. Billy Stickland/INPHO
up for grabs

Lions at the back of Sexton's mind as he gears up for Scotland

‘We want to get as many Irish people on that trip as possible.’

THE CHAMPIONSHIP IS long gone, the wooden spoon has presumably been avoided, so Ireland’s remaining Six Nations fixtures are just a matter of sorting out the remaining places.

Not just places in the six-team table, but berths in a Lions squad if it is still to go ahead.

Ireland captain Jonathan Sexton has been a Test starter for the quadrennial four-nation tour since 2013. And although he is primarily focused on guiding Ireland to wins over Scotland and England in the tournament’s remaining fixtures, those opponents also carry direct competitors for a Lions number 10 shirt in Finn Russell and Owen Farrell.

“Of course,” Sexton said when asked if the potential for a summer series against the world champions added a little extra spice.

“It’s not at the forefront of our thoughts because even if it wasn’t a Lions year we would still be going out to win the game and to put our best foot forward. But obviously at the back of your mind the next two are very important games in terms of those Lions selections.”

Turning Ireland’s winning tally from one to three over the coming weeks would not only boost Sexton’s case for inclusion, the tide would lift the boats around him.

“It will help the Irish cause if we can pick up a couple of wins. It will help get some more numbers on the plane and that’s ultimately what we want, isn’t it? We want to get as many Irish people on that trip as possible so, yeah, it’s definitely in the back of our minds somewhere.”

Sexton will turn 36 this summer, but has a freshly signed contract extension that will bring him through at least another year with Leinster and Ireland. The 12-month length of the new deal is not cause for him to rally to prove a point, says the 10.  It just allows him to continue to push for honours for the sides he represents.

“I don’t think I’m motivated by contract. I’m motivated by trying to achieve things with these teams. To try and win things.

“I’m very driven to try and finish this campaign on a high and then go back to Leinster, try to have a successful end to the season. Then think about next year when summertime rolls around and you have some time to reflect and see where you are.

“Very short-term focus at the moment.”

That means the gaze is trained on taking down a Scotland team who opened their campaign with a win over England, but have since faltered against Wales and are still waiting to face France.

Ireland go to Murrayfield this Sunday a fortnight on from a confidence-boosting win over Italy that ended a run of three Six Nations losses since they last faced the Azzurri. However, Sexton refutesa suggestion that the performance in Rome was purely down to the lower quality of the opponent. Against Scotland, he will be prepared to win ugly.

“The weather was pretty good,” he said of the high-tempo display in Italy, “there was no wind or rain, it was a dry ball, so that is a big factor in how you play.

“Against Wales we showed some very good stuff with 14 men and it is very hard to do that – I don’t think I’ve ever hit so many rucks in my life as I did in that game. It is all hands on deck…

“Against France (a fixture Sexton missed due to concussion) it is a different game, it is a greasy ball, tough conditions for the guys. It could be tough conditions again this Sunday in Murrayfield by the looks of it.

“It is going to be wet and windy so we might not see that game. It could be back to rolling the sleeves up and that’s okay as well.”

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