England winger is a man on a mission as Lions look to bounce back following defeat against the Highlanders
ANTHONY WATSON is just seven days from fulfilling his childhood dream.
The England winger is a man on a mission as he closes in on a Lions Test shirt against New Zealand next weekend.
Of the current back-three players in Warren Gatland’s squad, Watson is the only one to have laid down a serious marker.
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And against the Maori All Blacks today, the 23-year-old can hammer home his claim to be running out against the world champions in Saturday’s First Test at Eden Park.
Bath flier Watson said: “This is what everyone here has been striving for since they were kids.
“To let anything come between you and a good performance is a waste of time really, isn’t it?
“You’ve got to prepare as well as possible, tick all the boxes, then go out and enjoy it. That’s what I’ve been doing.”
Watson, who has scored 13 tries in 26 Red Rose appearances, bagged the Lions’ first try on tour in the 13-7 win over the Provincial Barbarians a fortnight ago.
And he caught the eye again as a first-half replacement for injured full-back Stuart Hogg in the 12-3 win over Crusaders.
Yet Watson admits his solid tour so far could have been even better.
In Christchurch last weekend he had an opportunity to take on All Blacks winger Israel Dagg man-for-man but chose to pass and the chance of a try went begging.
Boss Gatland was quick to point out he ought to have backed his skills and Watson admitted: “I should have taken him on.
“I thought Liam Williams was outside me, even so Dagg was just edging away.
“I should have just taken the opportunity when I had it.
“Rob Howley also told me after the game that he thought I should have taken him on — and I agreed.”
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Getting those decisions right will be key against New Zealand.
With fly-half Owen Farrell a serious doubt for the First Test, the Lions could also be without one of their key generals on the pitch.
Johnny Sexton starts at No 10 today and has started to show his best form after an indifferent start to the tour.
Sexton’s Ireland and Leinster team-mate Sean O’Brien said: “You give Johnny a bit of a cuddle sometimes and he perks up and gets his head back in the game.
“He’s a competitor, and someone who doesn’t like losing and that can be tough.
“He probably puts pressure on himself at times but I wouldn’t have him any other way. I’d rather him barking and yapping at us, than not saying a word.
“Johnny is one of these guys who’s a perfectionist.
“It doesn’t matter to him whether Owen is fit or not fit — Johnny is looking after himself first and foremost and getting his stuff sorted, getting his role right, and that’ll help everyone.
“He was really sharp against the Crusaders and it was a difficult game to come into off the bench, but he was up to speed straight away.”
Gatland’s Lions desperately need a win today to steady the nerves after Tuesday’s 23-22 defeat by the Highlanders.
But they also need to stitch together a disciplined performance, cutting out stupid errors and reducing the penalty count.
Flanker O’Brien — who starts at blindside today with tour skipper Sam Warburton on the bench — added: “For us to improve, we need to have pressure on us and be able to perform under that pressure.
“Because whoever plays in the Tests will be under a lot of it.”