Rugby Union

Johnny Sexton claims Dublin win will guarantee Ireland more Lions places than England

Johnny Sexton celebrates with Jordan Larmour after beating Scotland

Johnny Sexton maintains victory for Ireland over England should ensure his side have more places than Eddie Jones’ side in Warren Gatland’s British and Irish Lions squad this summer.

The conclusion to this year’s Guinness Six Nations for both sides this weekend in Dublin may be a dead rubber with second the best that either side can achieve after frustrating campaign, though both teams take momentum into the final round, with the Irish edging Scotland last weekend and England pulling off a fine victory over France at Twickenham.

But the upcoming series in South Africa should provide fuel to motivate those eager to clinch a place on the tour and Sexton believes Saturday’s result could reflect in how Gatland selects his squad.

The fly-half toured with the Lions in 2013 and 2017 and expects the final Championship standings to directly correlate with the number of players from each country included in Gatland’s multinational squad.

The 35-year-old, who was unwilling to discuss his own prospects, said: “It will be a big game in the decision-making process, we know that.

“Like the Scotland game was, like the Welsh game was – those games against the home nations, the guys you are competing against.

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“Wales, if they go and win a Grand Slam, they will have the majority of guys on tour and whoever finishes second will get the next most, that’s generally what it’s been, historically that has been the case.

“It’s a big game but, like I said before the last game, if there was no Lions tour this year, all the motivation is the exact same; you are playing for your country, you are playing against England.

“You are incredibly motivated to represent the jersey properly and to represent the people and everyone involved with it.

“Nothing changes that much but, in the back of your mind, it’s a big game in that regard (Lions places) as well.”

Grand Slam-chasing Wales are already assured of finishing ahead of Ireland, England and Scotland following wins over each of their rivals.

Andy Farrell’s resurgent Irish are seeking to record a third successive victory after defeating Italy and the Scots to bounce back from narrow losses against the Welsh and France.

Meanwhile, England travel to Dublin buoyed by a thrilling success over Les Bleus but ruing shock losses in their Calcutta Cup clash with Gregor Townsend’s men and to Wayne Pivac’s Wales, which prematurely extinguished hopes of a title defence.

Sexton feels Saturday’s game could easily have been a Championship decider and, regardless of the outcome, anticipates looking back on the tournament with regret.

“Ultimately, even if we do finish on a high, we will look back on this as one that got away,” said the Leinster man.

“I have talked about the Welsh game going down to 14 and the French game, how close that was, we could very easily be going for a Championship this weekend – the same as England.

“There is so little between a lot of the teams in this competition and that’s been proven, you look through the tournament and the results that have happened back up what I’m saying.

“There is very little between the teams, very little between going for a Grand Slam and nothing.

“But we’re determined to finish on a high.”

PA

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