British and Irish Lions 2017: Johnny Sexton says 'pressure on All Blacks too' as he makes Owen Farrell revelation

New Zealand's 23-year winning streak at Eden Park will be on the line against the Lions next weekend and Sexton believes that can weigh heavy on the All Blacks

Jack de Menezes
Rotorua International Stadium
Saturday 17 June 2017 22:04
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Jonathan Sexton believes the All Blacks will be under pressure to maintain their Eden Park winning streak
Jonathan Sexton believes the All Blacks will be under pressure to maintain their Eden Park winning streak

Johnny Sexton laid down the gauntlet in the wake of the British and Irish Lions’ 32-10 victory over the Maori All Blacks by claiming they are not the only ones who will be under pressure to deliver in next weekend’s first Test against New Zealand, with the fly-half pointing to the proud record that is held at Eden Park.

The All Blacks have not lost at Eden Park since the 23-20 defeat by France in July 1994, and have put together an incredible run of 37 consecutive wins since then to turn the ground into their very own fortress.

Having steered the Lions to a Test series victory over Australia four years ago, Sexton knows all about pressure, but after a commanding performance in the record victory over the Maori, the Irishman believes the tourists can take advantage of the expectation placed on the All Blacks.

“It's a much bigger challenge to 2013, the guys that were there can use the experience they gained with regards to the pressure,” Sexton said after the biggest win that the Lions have ever recorded against the Maori, ending their 20-game winning streak in the process.

“Come Thursday, Friday Auckland will be jammed with Lions supporters and how that can just hit you.

“It's small things like that help prepared the team, but like I said this is the biggest challenge in rugby to take the All Blacks on in Eden Park, they haven't lost there in however many years and it's something you have to get excited about. There's been legends of New Zealand who have never played the Lions and they'll be well-aware of that.

“I'm sure they'll be under big pressure as well with the expectation of trying to live up to what happened 12 years ago and it's a rugby mad country so the pressure is on.”

Sexton has become something of a hot topic as the tour has progressed, not least because he appears to be improving with each performance.

The Leinster stand-off was far from his best in the narrow victory over the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians, while he came off the bench against the Blues in a match that ended in the first of two defeats on the tour.

But, he is keen to point out, the opening match came just 72 hours after the Lions arrived in New Zealand, and given the way he has played in the impressive wins over the Crusaders and now the Maori, the explanation of jetlag appears a very genuine argument.

The 31-year-old looks to have put himself firmly back into the Test equation, with or without Owen Farrell’s thigh injury that has placed his first Test participation in doubt and there is the very real possibility that they could line up at 10 and 12 together.

Sexton has improved as the tour has gone on 

Sexton even let slip that despite Warren Gatland’s failure to start the pair in that combination on this tour – the only occasion coming in the time they played together against the Crusaders when Sexton came on due to injury to Jonathan Davies – it is something that have prepared for in training.

“At times, he was at 10 and I was able to be his eyes and at other times, I was at 10 and he was able to be mine,” Sexton explained. “It’s great when you’ve got somebody at 12 who can help you out that much. When he was at 10, I tried to help him as well. I thought we played well together but it’s up to the coaches now.

“There’s a few drills where you just naturally fall in together. We did a little bit in Carton House, where we weren’t put in the same team together but we were, I suppose, doing a drill where at times he was at second receiver and at times I was. If you know the game like he does, if he plays 10 or 12, he’ll be a huge asset to any team. He’s a top class player.”

Sexton revealed he and Farrell have trained to play alongside each other (Getty)

Luckily the Lions did not need the boot of Farrell in the win over the Maori as Leigh Halfpenny put in a faultless display from the kicking tee, landing all seven of his efforts at goal with a 20-point haul.

Halfpenny scored twice before the Maori struck back with a Liam Messam try that came through indecision between Halfpenny and George North in fielding a Nehe Milner-Skudder chip, but that only produced an emphatic second-half response as a penalty try and Maro Itoje score secured a crucial victory not just for the Lions, but for Gatland in what has proven a testing week.

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