Jonathan Sexton has played his way into British and Irish Lions Test side, says Sean Fitzpatrick
By Michael Kelleher
Last Updated: 10/06/17 10:28pm
Jonathan Sexton has played his way into the British and Lions Test side with his performance against the Crusaders, believes former All Blacks captain Sean Fitzpatrick.
Owen Farrell kicked four penalties to help guide the Lions to a pressure-relieving 12-3 win in Christchurch.
The Lions were forced to reshuffle their back-line in the first half when Stuart Hogg and Jonathan Davies were forced off with head injuries, with both later failing head injury assessments.
Anthony Watson came on at full back and looked threatening throughout the game, while Sexton replaced Davies, with Farrell moving to first centre and Ben Te'o shifting to outside centre.
The subject of playing both Sexton and Farrell in the first Test against the All Blacks on June 24 was widely discussed in the lead-up to the tour but Warren Gatland appeared to prefer Farrell at No 10, where he plays for Saracens, rather than No 12, where he typically lines out for England.
However, Fitzpatrick believes the Lions may have stumbled upon a formula that can trouble the All Blacks after watching how the pair combined with scrum-half Conor Murray to control the match against the Crusaders.
"Owen Farrell is world class. There is no doubt about but I think one of the players who played his way in, by chance, with the injuries to Stuart Hogg and Jonathan Davies, was Sexton," Fitzpatrick told Sky Sports News HQ.
"I thought the two of them being in tandem made a difference in terms of the choices that the Lions had.
"We spoke about the kicking game not being used against the Blues where tonight it was used.
"I think with Sexton and Farrell, having those two options along with Conor Murray who kicked superbly in that first half especially, it made a difference.
"You need world-class players to beat the All Blacks and tonight we saw three world-class players in terms of Murray, Sexton and definitely Farrell."
Gatland praised both Sexton and Farrell in his post-match press conference and admitted the prospect of playing them together has been debated among the Lions coaching staff.
"Owen Farrell was pretty good. We thought that kick went over and would like to see the replay again," Gatland said, referring to Farrell's missed penalty which appeared to go directly over the post.
"I thought Johnny Sexton did well. We talked about looking at that 10-12 combination at some point."
The game against the Crusaders was billed as a 'fourth Test' with the Super Rugby competition leaders fielding nine All Blacks against the Lions and riding a 14-match winning streak.
Fitzpatrick believes Gatland will have been well aware of the quality of the opposition and accordingly picked a side which will closely resemble the one that will take on the All Blacks in the first Test, with a number of those players cementing their claims.
"I think we today we saw pretty close to what will be the starting 15 in the Test match," Fitzpatrick said.
"Mako Vunipola played his way into the starting 15. I thought Jamie George at hooker was quite outstanding.
"George Kruis would always be my starting second row and I think once again Alun Wyn Jones played his way back into it.
"So he has got some tough choices but that is what they need. They have got 41 players that could potentially start in a Test but there are a number of players today who really stuck their hand up and said 'I want to be part of that team'."