Belfast Telegraph

World class Sexton will prove critics wrong, blasts Laidlaw


By Nick Purewal

Johnny Sexton will prove his "world-class" abilities all over again in New Zealand after a tough opening game with the British and Irish Lions, according to Greig Laidlaw.

Sexton fluffed his lines in his worst performance in some time as the Lions laboured to a 13-7 win over the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians on Saturday.

The Ireland playmaker must surely have ceded ground in the race for the Lions' Test number 10 shirt, especially as Owen Farrell replaced him in Whangarei and dragged the lacklustre tourists to a slender victory.

Scotland scrum-half Laidlaw insisted, however, that Sexton can still turn his poor start on its head and restore his much-vaunted reputation.

"We know the class of Johnny, he is a world-class player," said a defiant Laidlaw. "For nines and 10s, we probably have the hardest job trying to organise everything around us and concentrate on our own game.

"It's always a little bit tougher and when the heat is on everyone is looking to you to make the calls.

"Johnny will be back up and running next time he pulls on the jersey.

"The more you play together, the more he would know what I was going to do, just building the relationship.

"It's about making sure you do that by practising hard in training going forward."

Maintenance engineer Sam Anderson-Heather's try put the Barbarians 7-3 up at half-time in Whangarei.

However, the Lions squeaked home thanks to Anthony Watson's late score.

The Lions will now face the Blues on Wednesday in Auckland, as the New Zealand tour cranks through the levels - but Laidlaw has insisted Warren Gatland's side can quickly hit their stride after a poor start.

“I am absolutely delighted and very honoured to have worn the jersey,” said Laidlaw.

“Now I have got the taste of it I want to get out there again. Next time I get an opportunity I want to get out there and play again.

“There were a lot of positive things from the coaches, they were delighted with the win and just want to keep pressing on now, keep getting better day in, day out, and making sure next time we take the field we are a bit better so we can go on and win more games.

“It was very calm at half-time, which was good. It was calm heads and calm voices which we had just to be able to build that second half performance.

“We were hanging on at times in the second half, so it was good messages at half-time and we came out and executed in the second half.

“We stepped off the plane and were straight into it. But we are happy to win.

“We created opportunities, even though we obviously didn’t take them.

“But we would be a lot more worried if we weren’t creating opportunities.

“Time together in the saddle will be very important now in training, putting together combinations and the team that goes out together on Wednesday, that is the next task in hand.

“We need to make sure we go and win that now.”

Meanwhile, British and Irish Lions skipper Sam Warburton has spoken of his shock at the London terror attacks on Saturday night and told those caught up in the carnage, the team will dedicate their remaining nine matches to those affected.

Wales flanker Warburton played in his team’s 13-7 victory over the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians in Whangarei on Saturday night before waking up on Sunday morning to see events unfolding at London Bridge and Borough Market that has seen the death toll rise to seven and almost 50 people injured as three attackers brought terror to the streets of the capital.

Events in London struck a jarring note for the Lions on when they arrived at the Waitangi Treaty grounds, where the tour party of 41 players plus management, were welcomed officially to New Zealand after they arrived in the country last Wednesday.

Afterwards Warburton and Lions tour manager John Spencer were keen to address the incidents on the other side of the world.

“In future performances and wins, we’ll dedicate to those who have been involved and I guess we can play a small part in trying to cheer a majority of the nation up by trying to be successful over here,” Warburton said.

“We’ll commit our performances and all our efforts to those involved recently in London.

Spencer added: “We’ve only just heard about the tragedies in London.

“We don’t know any detail yet, we just heard about it coming out of the meeting house here.

“But the boys are very shocked, but can I just express our sympathies with those who have been injured back home.

“This is a dreadful tragedy and our thoughts and prayers are certainly with those who have been injured — and obviously their families.

“We’re four nations but we’re one jersey, one team, and we’ll all stand united here about the sentiments in London.”

Belfast Telegraph

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