Johnny Sexton admits booking spots on this summer’s British and Irish Lions tour will be in the minds of Ireland’s players going into Guinness Six Nations games against Scotland and England.
Andy Farrell’s side travel to Murrayfield on Sunday before completing the Championship at home to Eddie Jones’ men six days later.
The Lions are scheduled to take on South Africa in July and August, although the coronavirus pandemic means uncertainty still surrounds that three-match series.
Ireland captain Sexton, who toured with the Lions in 2013 and 2017, is eager for as many of his countrymen as possible to be included in Warren Gatland’s squad and believes results in their upcoming matches will influence selection.
“It’s not at the forefront of our thought, because even if it wasn’t a Lions year we’d still be going out to win the game of course and to put our best foot forward,” he said.
“But, in the back of your mind, you know the next two are pretty important games in terms of those Lions selections.
“It will help the Irish cause if we can pick up a couple of wins, it will help get more numbers on the plane and that’s ultimately what we want – we want to get as many Irish people on that trip as possible.
“It’s definitely in the back of our minds somewhere.”
— British & Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) December 4, 2019
Ireland are seeking to salvage some pride in the tournament after successive defeats to Wales and France ruined their title hopes, prior to a routine win over Italy.
Ireland forwards coach Paul O’Connell said on Tuesday that Gregor Townsend had created the strongest Scotland team he will have ever faced during his career.
Sexton agreed with that assessment and believes keeping Finn Russell quiet could be key to winning in Edinburgh.
The 35-year-old plans to review video tapes of opposing fly-half Russell, who was absent for each of Ireland’s two victories over the Scots in 2020.
“He’s obviously a big threat for us, knowing that he’s got a full box of tricks that he tries to pull out most games,” Sexton said of Racing 92 star Russell.
“He call pull the strings, if we let him, and he’s hurt us in the past.
“We haven’t played against him the last couple of times we’ve played Scotland, so we’ve got to go back and look at some old footage.
“He’s been in good form for his club, he’s a massive threat – like they have across their team.
“Him and (Stuart) Hogg are probably the standout guys but we have to be on our game this week to stop them.
“They’re a team full of confidence, they will fancy their chances against us.
“They will feel that maybe they should have beaten us the last two times they played us and obviously they have improved a lot since then as well. We have massive respect for them as a team.”
Sexton has agreed a one-year contract extension with the Irish Rugby Football Union since the 48-10 victory over Italy in Rome on February 27.
As he reaches the twilight of his career, the Leinster man is content to sign short-term deals and insists he has never been motivated by contracts.
“It was agreed pretty quick. I suppose when you get to the age I’m at, it’s one year see how you feel this time next year, how you’re performing, how the body is holding up, how the mind is holding up.
📝 𝗦𝗲𝘅𝘁𝗼𝗻 𝗦𝗶𝗴𝗻𝘀 𝗖𝗼𝗻𝘁𝗿𝗮𝗰𝘁 𝗘𝘅𝘁𝗲𝗻𝘀𝗶𝗼𝗻 🟢
The IRFU is delighted to announce Ireland Captain @JohnnySexton has signed a one-year contract extension up to the end of the 2021/2022 season 🙌
More: https://t.co/lePHU371if#ShoulderToShoulder pic.twitter.com/cAaXua9P4v
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) March 2, 2021
“I always knew it was going to be a one-year-at-a-time job when it got to this stage.
“I am delighted to continue the journey for another year and still very hungry to try and achieve success with Leinster and Ireland.
“I don’t think I’m motivated by contracts; I’m motivated by trying to achieve things with these teams and trying to win things – that’s the way I’ve always been.”