Belfast Telegraph

British and Irish Lions win caps a topsy-turvy year for Jonathan Sexton

By Conor George

"A very proud day for me ... an unbelievable memory winning my first Welsh cap. One I'll remember forever!"

The wattage generated by Jonathan Sexton's smile could have powered a small city.

The talk in the build-up to Saturday's deciding third Test in Sydney focused on the decision to drop Brian O'Driscoll and the inclusion of ten Welsh players in the starting line-up. Sexton's comments, made in jest, proved the players weren't immune to the controversies either.

It is too much of a stretch to suggest there was no pain being felt on Saturday night. The two most poignant scenes of the night involved Brian O'Driscoll.

Firstly when he and George Smith, the only links to the 2001 Series still playing, spent a few moments catching up and secondly when he walked the pitch cradling his baby daughter. It seemed wrong that he was wearing a suit and not the famous red uniform.

But according to Sexton, O'Driscoll was very much part of the celebrations.

"He spoke during the week to us and was in the middle of the dressing-room there enjoying it all," said Sexton.

It's been a whirlwind few months for Sexton.

He's scarcely had time to draw breath since returning from the injuries sustained during Ireland's Six Nations Championship.

Since then he's lifted the Celtic League and Amlin Challenge Cup with Leinster, won a series with the Lions and two days after he returns to Ireland he will marry his fiance Laura.

Mercifully, he came through Saturday's game with no facial marks, but even after the wedding he'll have precious little time off.

He and Racing Metro's other new signings Dan Lydiate and Jamie Roberts are due in for training on July 29.

"We'll honeymoon for a week and move to Paris on July 24. We'll do a proper honeymoon next year hopefully," he said.

The Lions' performance on Saturday showed a greater maturity than the previous week: "We didn't panic when they came back to within three points. We stuck with the game plan.

"I was worried a little. It is easy when momentum switches away from you to let it affect how you play but we stuck with it and that dressing-room is a fairly special place," he added.

Sexton admitted to a feeling of dread when the referee referred his try to the TMO – "It would have been a huge let-down but thankfully he saw it wasn't forward" – and paid tribute to the team for creating the opportunity.

"It was on in the earlier move but we delayed a little and the chance was gone.

"It worked great the second time."

It's been an emotional year for Sexton and in some ways he wishes he had allowed himself the time to enjoy the journey to this point instead of "wishing it away".

"It's only now when it's all done that I can maybe look back and appreciate what's happened.

"I've been looking forward to this moment for so long I was in a hurry to get here."

For now, Sexton is able to reflect on playing an integral part in the Lions' first Series win since 1997 and he can now enjoy the satisfaction of being part of an elite group.

"The big motivation as a player is you want to be remembered when you hang up your boots and winning a Lions series is definitely part of that," he added.

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