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Gatland defends Sexton over Lions performance

Sexton struggled in the Lions' opening match. Credit: PA

Warren Gatland has insisted it would be "unfair" to write off Johnny Sexton's challenge for a British and Irish Lions Test shirt after a wretched night in Whangarei.

Ireland fly-half Sexton struggled in the Lions' opening match over the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians, with Owen Farrell stepping off the bench to salvage a 13-7 victory.

The Barbarians led 7-3 at half-time thanks to Sam Anderson-Heather's try, but the Lions scraped home thanks to a late Anthony Watson score initiated by Farrell.

Boss Gatland hailed Saracens talisman Farrell's "big match temperament" in digging the Lions out of a hole - but insisted Sexton can still compete for a Test shirt.

Asked if Sexton's difficult night leaves him trailing Farrell for the Lions' Test number 10 jersey, Gatland replied: "I think that's pretty unfair in making an assessment like that.

"These guys arrived on Wednesday and are still recovering from travel, they haven't got into regular sleep patterns yet. We knew it would be difficult in terms of that.

"Owen Farrell has a big match temperament, there's no doubt.

"I would have been happier of course if he'd knocked over that one he put against the post, that might have given us an easier last 10 minutes.

"But he's played some pretty good rugby in the last 18 months, and he's one of the standout performers in northern hemisphere rugby anyway."

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