Billy Twelvetrees’ call-up fuels fears over Jonny Sexton but sources indicate Leinster man is fit and well
Lions expect a ferocious battle against Waratahs on Saturday
Jonathan Sexton is reported to be fit and well for Saturday’s game against the Waratahs.
The late night call-up of Billy Twelvetrees, at 12.30am Australian time last night, has fuelled fears that Jonny Sexton’s hamstring complaint has become a genuine source of concern for the Lions management, but sources have indicated that Sexton is fit and well, and is expected to play against the Waratahs this Saturday.
Sexton has had a heavy workload of late, between chasing two cups with Leinster to all the travelling, training and game time with the Lions, on foot of which his hamstring tightened up against the Reds last Saturday. But, mindful of the torn hamstring he suffered during the Six Nations, a scan revealed nothing untoward.
Owen Farrell’s knee injury has also curtailed his training time this week, but in any event comments by Warren Gatland in a Lions’ statement suggested Twelvetrees’ call-up was not as cover for any one specific player.
“The nature of a Lions tour means that there will inevitably be knocks which take time to recover from. The whole squad have worked hard but a lot of the backs have doubled up over the last two games, either starting or from the bench. Billy played well in the first Test for England and he provides that versatility to cover a variety of positions.”
Which, of course, made his exclusion in the first place something of a surprise.
Twelvetrees can also cover inside centre, although here the Lions have three in situ, namely Jamie Roberts, Jonathan Davies and Manu Tuilagi. Roberts, whose well-balanced partnership with Brian O’Driscoll was largely kept under wraps, believes there were salient lessons to be learned from the seemingly pointless rout of the Combined Country on Tuesday night, specifically with regard to the Lions wide, ball-in-hand game in a night-time kick-off with increasingly dewy conditions.
“In that second half they just spread the field and made things difficult for us. It was very greasy, there were quite a lot of knock-ons and we lost the ball in contact a few times. The conditions are no excuse – we’ve got to work a bit harder at not letting go of the ball, because over the next three or four weeks it could be greasy. None of the stadiums here have roofs on them and we’re in the middle of winter. That’s something we’ve got to look at.”
Tuesday’s game bore scant comparison to last Saturday’s attempted ambush in Brisbane by the Reds, and while the Brumbies are clearly lurking in the long grass next Tuesday in Canberra, Saturday’s sell-out against the Waratahs in the 45,000, multi-purpose, well-appointed Sydney Football Stadium will have a true sense of occasion about it.
“The boys who played against the Reds, that was a really tough hit-out against a quality team,” said Roberts. “The Waratahs will provide equal competition to the Reds. You can argue both ways. It’s the nature of the tour, but it’s up to us as a side to raise the intensity in our game.”
Failing that, there are always the famed and intense Warren Gatland training sessions. “If Gats doesn’t feel we’re reaching that Test-match intensity in games, he’ll make sure we do it in training,” said Roberts with a knowing smile.
“The sports science team out here are second to none and it’s about getting things right off the pitch as well. If Gats doesn’t feel that we’re getting to that intensity, he’ll certainly replicate it in training leading up to the first Test.
“Ultimately we’ve got to be playing teams where it’s far more competitive, but that’s the nature of touring, that’s the way it is. We always knew that these games would be part of the tour. From 2009, we have to remember that we came very close to winning, but for a couple of mistakes in that first Test and that second Test as well. I’m sure that Saturday is going to be as equal a challenge, if not a greater, challenge than the Reds game.
“ I don’t think there’s any danger of this squad being undercooked for the Tests.”