Farrell stakes his claim as Sexton struggles

Maori Warriors greet the British and Irish Lions at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds on Sunday (Picture: David Davies/PA Wire).
Maori Warriors greet the British and Irish Lions at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds on Sunday (Picture: David Davies/PA Wire).
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Johnny Sexton will prove his “world-class” abilities all over again in New Zealand after a tough opening with the British and Irish Lions, according to Greig Laidlaw.

Sexton fluffed his lines in his worst performance in some time as the Lions laboured to a narrow win over the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians on Saturday.

The Ireland playmaker must surely have ceded ground in the race for the Lions’ Test No 10, especially as Owen Farrell replaced him in Whangarei and dragged the lacklustre tourists to a slender victory.

Scotland scrum-half Laidlaw insisted, however, that Sexton can still turn his poor start on its head and restore his much-vaunted reputation.

“We know the class of Johnny, he is a world-class player,” said Laidlaw.

“For nines and 10s, we probably have the hardest job trying to organise everything around us and concentrate on our own game.

“It’s always a little bit tougher and when the heat is on everyone is looking to you to make the calls.

“Johnny will be back up and running next time he pulls on the jersey.

“The more you play together, the more he would know what I was going to do, just building the relationship.

“It’s about making sure you do that by practising hard in training going forward.”

Maintenance engineer Sam Anderson-Heather’s try put the Barbarians 7-3 up at half-time in Whangarei, but the Lions squeaked home thanks to Anthony Watson’s late score.

The Lions will now face the Blues on Wednesday in Auckland, as the New Zealand tour cranks through the levels – but Laidlaw has insisted Warren Gatland’s side can quickly hit their stride after a poor start.

“I am absolutely delighted and very honoured to have worn the jersey,” said Laidlaw.

“Now I have got the taste of it I want to get out there again. Next time I get an opportunity I want to get out there and play again.

“There were a lot of positive things from the coaches; they were delighted with the win and just want to keep pressing on now, keep getting better day-in, day-out, and making sure next time we take the field we are a bit better so we can go on and win more games.

“It was very calm at half-time, which was good. It was calm heads and calm voices which we had just to be able to build that second-half performance.

“We were hanging on at times in the second half, so it was good messages at half-time and we came out and executed in the second half.

“We stepped off the plane and were straight into it. But we are happy to win.

“We created opportunities, even though we obviously didn’t take them.

“But we would be a lot more worried if we weren’t creating opportunities.

“Time together in the saddle will be very important now in training, putting together combinations and the team that goes out together on Wednesday, that is the next task in hand.

“We need to make sure we go and win that now.”

Sam Warburton admitted he had never experienced anything to rival the Maori welcome for the British and Irish Lions at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.

Captain Warburton hailed the Lions’ “special” official welcome yesterday, that came from more than 400 Maori warriors at the birthplace of the New Zealand nation.

Warriors from a mix of Maori tribes came together to perform a stunning Powhiri for the Lions, who responded to the welcome by singing their four chosen tour songs.

Head coach Gatland had admitted community commitments had contributed to back spasms for Ross Moriarty and Kyle Sinckler picked up in Saturday’s win over the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians, but Warburton still praised the Lions’ off-field duties.

“We’ve had quite a few Maori welcomes in 2011 for the World Cup and when Wales toured here last summer, but that was like nothing I’ve experienced before,” said Warburton.

“That was brilliant. The day and the setting made it even more special.

“Off the rugby field, that was probably one of the best experiences I’ve had. All the players came out of there in awe really.”

The Treaty of Waitangi was first signed in 1840 and resulted in the declaration of British sovereignty over New Zealand.

The Lions received three challenges during the official welcome. The first came in front of a ceremonial war canoe, and was a private event.

The Lions squad then walked to the top of the Treaty Grounds to face the entire group of warriors, where captain Warburton accepted the challenge and proved the tourists came in peace.

The final challenge was held in front of the Te Whare Runanga building, and was followed by ceremonial speeches and songs inside.