All Johnny Sexton wants on Saturday is that he and his team-mates play as well as he knows they can. That they failed to do so last weekend in losing 18-9 to Australia has been the source, as Andy Farrell described, of collective frustration, anger and grumpiness this week in the Irish camp.
And for Sexton, like his defence coach a member of the British & Irish Lions tour to New Zealand last summer, those emotions are all too familiar to last summer’s test series with the All Blacks.
One-nil down and facing a do-or-die series saver in the southern hemisphere, the parallels with the 2017 Lions tour and this Irish odyssey in Australia against the Wallabies are obvious although Sexton yesterday recalled another coincidence that links the two situations as the fly-half prepares for a likely return to the No. 10 jersey following an outing on the replacements bench.
“I didn’t think of that comparison but I was on the bench for that first game as well,” Sexton said of the Lions’ first test defeat to the world champions at Eden Park 50 weeks ago.
“If you lose a game, you can look back and say, ‘If we play as well as we can, and do everything we can’, you can live with it to a certain extent, but there are parts of the game that we look back on and say, ‘We didn’t quite do that well enough’.
“We could go out and play absolutely brilliant this week and still not get the right result because we’re in Australia, playing against a very good team. That’s the nature of coming down at the end of the season and playing tests down here. At least let’s play our best ....”
The Lions lost 30-15 in Auckland that night with Sexton finishing the game, just as he did Brisbane last Saturday when replacing Joey Carbery and both outings left him with that nagging feeling his team did not do itself justice.
“It’s probably similar in terms of we didn’t play as well as we could in the first game, and that was a frustration. If we’d played as well as we could in that first test in New Zealand we felt we could have got a result.
“We felt the same this week, if we’d played as well as we could, we may have won. We may not have, but that’s the biggest frustration from our point of view. We didn’t hit the standards that we want to and the coaches demand, and let’s do that this week and see where it gets us.”
The Lions hit back seven days later and leveled the series with a 24-21 victory in Wellington and Sexton is confident Ireland can take their medicine and the comparisons will continue with a similar response from the touring side in Melbourne on Saturday.
“It’s a good chance, you learn a lot when you lose. We try and learn through winning and something we did quite well during the Six Nations was that we improved even when we were winning, which is the sign of a good team, and now we’ve got to bounce back, show a reaction, and put in a performance a hell of a lot better than we did last week.”
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