Although he may have been central to the success of the British and Irish Lions in Australia four years ago, uncertainty hangs over Johnny Sexton’s participation in the upcoming tour of New Zealand.
While Sexton remains a quality player, the fact remains that he has only managed to finish one game in which he has started this season with either Leinster or Ireland. This has raised questions over his ability to withstand what Warren Gatland previously described as a “very, very tough” Lions touring schedule.
Indeed, soon after Warren Gatland paid a visit to Ireland’s training camp in Carton House, Sexton was ruled out of their opener against Scotland with a calf injury.
While Sexton’s participation in the remainder of the Championship is not in doubt, the injury comes after the fly-half suffered a series of high-profile concussions and had spent time on the sidelines nursing a hamstring injury following Ireland’s successful autumn series.
This has evidently raised concerns for Gatland, who highlighted the attritional nature of the Lions touring schedule in an interview with the Irish Independent.
He [Sexton] is a really quality player but there is going to be some real attrition in New Zealand and you are going to need players who are going to be able to handle what is going to be an incredibly tough and physical tour with the 10 matches.
Hopefully we have a group of players that can last that time and you don’t pick up too many injuries. That’s something that we have got to be aware of.
However, while Gatland made reference to the fact that “there are a number of players from the four nations who have had injuries and have found it difficult to put a consecutive part of the season together”, Sexton must see off the likes of Owen Farrell, George Ford, Dan Biggar and Finn Russell if he wants to be included among the touring party.
As Gatland is likely to only bring three playmakers on tour, Sexton needs game time to prove that he is capable of fully contributing to the Lions next summer.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena
On this week’s edition of the Oval Office, we discuss Ireland’s selection policy for overseas players, the England captaincy and more…