Gatland's Lions snub hurt but 'gone now' - Sexton

1 month ago 10
Johnny SextonJohnny Sexton and the Ireland squad are on a training camp in Portugal
Venue: Principality Stadium, Cardiff Date: Saturday, 4 February Kick-off: 14:15 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC One, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, BBC Radio Ulster, Radio 5 Sports Extra, the BBC Sport website & app; live text commentary on BBC Sport website & app.

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton says he has no animosity towards Warren Gatland over the Wales boss leaving him out of the 2021 British and Irish Lions tour.

Gatland has admitted he probably got it wrong in not selecting the fly-half while in charge of the Lions.

Speaking ahead of Ireland's Six Nations opener in Cardiff, Sexton also dismissed Gatland's claim that the match is a "free hit" for the hosts.

"You'll have to ask him," Sexton said of the New Zealander's Lions comments.

"That's gone now, isn't it. It's something that you never get back which is why it hurt so bad at the time.

"People make their decisions and at the time they probably make them for what they think are the right reasons.

"I met him at the launch [of the Six Nations] and there was no animosity or anything. We shook hands, said hello.

"I got on very well with him on the two previous tours [then Lions boss Gatland selected Sexton in 2013 and 2017] which is probably why it hurt so much, but it is what it is. Look, it's over now, it was a long time ago."

Sexton dismisses 'free hit' claim

Warren GatlandWarren Gatland returned for his second spell in charge of Wales in December

Ireland go into Saturday afternoon's encounter at Cardiff's Principality Stadium as the world's top-ranked side after an impressive 2022 that included a first series win in New Zealand, and autumn victories over Australia and South Africa.

Gatland, a former Ireland head coach, spoke on Wednesday about his team having a "free hit" against Andy Farrell's side, but Sexton dismissed that idea.

"Maybe that is what he is saying but he certainly hasn't picked a team that would suggest it is a free hit," Sexton said.

"He has picked such an experienced team. He is bringing back some older guys which would suggest he is targeting this game.

"If he was looking at a free hit, he would pick all the young lads and give it a lash, see who can get through to the World Cup. We are certainly not preparing like that.

"We are preparing for a full-on Test match in the Principality Stadium which is a very tough place to go and win, but that is what we have been preparing for. "

Ireland looking to end Cardiff losing run

Having trained on Wednesday without a face mask for the first time since undergoing cheekbone surgery last month, Sexton insisted that he is "all good" for the Six Nations.

He spoke very positively of the benefits of the squad having the time away together in warm weather, but is well aware of the tough task he and his team-mates will face in Cardiff.

Ireland have not won a Six Nations match at the Principality Stadium since 2013, but Sexton is determined to end that losing run.

"There were close calls in 2015 and 2017, then in 2019 they were going for the Grand Slam and we were going for the championship," he recalled.

"I remember it was a terrible day weather-wise, they got an early score and we had to chase the game. It was one of the worst days we've had in green for a lot of us.

"Then the last time we were there [in 2021] with Peter [O'Mahony] getting the red card, it made things very difficult for us but we could have sneaked away with a win.

"It's amazing how you can look back at all of these games and you remember them so vividly because they are all so special. It's a tough place to go, ask any nation - England, Scotland, nobody has a great record there."

The 37-year-old acknowledged the importance of Ireland getting their Six Nations campaign off to a good start, but insisted he and his team-mates are not worried about what may happen if they don't win.

"We are fully focused on our performance and trying to get that," he added.

"The first game is always a challenge, there is no shying away from that but we have done some great work to this point to make that [winning] a possibility."

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