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Dublin: 9 °C Monday 21 April, 2014

Sexton battling to retain focus as Lions countdown gathers pace

The Ireland number 10 admits his longing to wear the Lions jersey this summer almost got the better of him.

Image: INPHO

THERE’S A WILL to win inside Jonathan Sexton which has the capability of overriding everything else.

Even after creating the break and beautifully delaying the pass so that Fergus McFadden could take a try to salvage a losing bonus point against Clermont, Sexton’s failed conversion attempt left him a rage.

He has high standards, and expects the same from others. Yet after the 21-28 home defeat he showed a rare moment of naivety.

He confronted his old mate Nathan Hines, furious at what he perceived to be “dirty” tactics.

“There were just a couple of instances through the two games that we weren’t too happy with.” Sexton said softly before shunning an opportunity to play it off as half a dozen of the other.

“No it was him. We knew, like, he was like that for us as well. We didn’t think he’d be like that coming back to play against his old team.”

If Leinster, Sexton or both believed that one of Europe’s premier locks was going to ease off the pedal and do them a favour, then it was a costly oversight indeed. The number 10 insists he remains friends with the Scottish international, but that doesn’t mean he is forgiven.

“He does things for them on the pitch that are great. He’s an outstanding player. His work-rate for a second row is unbelievable. He sprints around the place and makes some amount of tackles and a lot of work. It’s just some of the dirty stuff we didn’t think they was going to come our way.”

Of course, there is chance the pair could soon be team-mates again in the summer; by which time the fly-half will doubtless revert to a satisfied state if the ‘dirty tricks’ are inflicted on Hines’ own countrymen.

Sexton plays and acts like a man determined to make up for lost time. The St Mary’s man makes no bones about it, he wants the Lions jersey.

“As an ambition or a goal, it’s obviously there. In pre-season when you’re training hard, it’s always in your head. It’s good at that time of the year, but then you start playing games.

“At the start of the season I probably thought about it too much.”

©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

It was a tough time to put it out of sight and out of mind. Especially with Rhys Priestland lining up opposite him in the third really big test of the season. However, he insists that it wasn’t any one game or player he honed in on. Instead “it’s about getting the right mind-set”.

Every sentence of Sexton’s oozes ambition. He’s not willing to rhyme off democratic nonsense about there being a lot of competition out there. He’s the best fly-half in the four nearest countries and he knows it. He hopes that he has already done enough to wear a red number 10 down under.

‘The last three years’

“With Leinster and Ireland I’ve had some good performances. I haven’t been perfect. I’ve had some big games where’ I’ve made mistakes I’ll hopefully learn from.

“I don’t think it’s going to come down to form over the next two months. I think they’ll look at the last three years. I don’t know what the basis for selection is, all I can do is go out and do my best every game.”

That, he most certainly does. But he must also expect the exact same from his opponents, perhaps more-so if they happen to be his friends.

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