Johnny Sexton knows only too well what it's like to play a leading role in losing a test to the All Blacks, a cruel learning experience which has only made him better and, perhaps as a result, he has enjoyed two victories against the world champions.

The second of course was in Wellington last weekend when he combined so brilliantly with his No12 Owen Farrell to contain and then expose the All Blacks in the Lions' 24-21 victory.

The first was last November in Chicago when he orchestrated Ireland's famous victory over the All Blacks which put a stop to their 18-test winning run. It was a thoroughly deserved win, too, one with daring and skill - a bit like the Lions' triumph at Westpac Stadium.

The failure was in Dublin in 2013, a night when Sexton should have enjoyed his first victory over the All Blacks, and who knows what might have transpired if he had. There he was in the eerie hush of a filled-to-capacity Aviva Stadium with Ireland ahead 22-17 and only six minutes on the clock, a relatively easy penalty to kick to take the test beyond the visitors.


Alas, for him he pushed it to the right and his shoulders seemed to slump on his way back to his own territory; the belief of the crowd and his teammates dissipating into the cold air as he ran.

The All Blacks' response was to launch an attack in the final minute which resulted in Ryan Crotty's try in the left corner with the final hooter having sounded 30 seconds earlier.

Aaron Cruden's conversion from wide out sealed the win which perhaps the All Blacks were lucky to achieve, but it only added to the sense that these players could win from anywhere. It was their 14th and last victory in a perfect year.

Ireland had outplayed them from the first whistle, but couldn't get across the line but there would be no such failure three years later at Chicago's Soldier Field.

As Steve Hansen said recently in talking about players overcoming the disappointment of not being selected, adversity can make you stronger if you have the right support, and clearly Sexton has grown to become a better player.

His Kiwi-born coach at Ireland, Joe Schmidt, suffered likewise before bouncing back last year, and Sexton regards him as one of his most influential coaches. The other is Dave Alred, an elite performance advisor who has worked with the likes of Jonny Wilkinson.

All of which means, Sexton, who started all three tests for the Lions against the Wallabies on the successful tour of Australia four years ago, is looming as a crucial figure for Warren Gatland's men at Eden Park.

Sexton, who turns 32 next week, was named on the reserves bench for the first test, but Gatland would cause a huge shock if he didn't go for the Conor Murray, Johnny Sexton, Owen Farrell triumvirate in the third and deciding test on Saturday.

Sexton has the running, kicking and passing game to make the most of the talents of those either side of him on the pitch. And he also has the mental game, one borne out of failure but which has him perfectly poised for what must be the biggest test of his life.