Johnny Sexton believes beating England should guarantee Ireland have greater representation on this summer’s British and Irish Lions tour than their weekend opponents.
Saturday’s Six Nations game in Dublin is effectively a dead rubber as a second-placed finish is the best either country can hope for at the end of underwhelming campaigns.
Yet, with Lions boss Warren Gatland still finalising his plans for the forthcoming series in South Africa, there remains added incentive to perform.
Fly-half Sexton toured with the Lions in 2013 and 2017 and expects the final championship standings to directly correlate with the number of players from each country included in Gatland’s squad.
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The 35-year-old, who was unwilling to discuss his own prospects, said: “It will be a big game in the decision-making process, we know that.
“Like the Scotland game was, like the Welsh game was – those games against the home nations, the guys you are competing against.
“Wales, if they go and win a Grand Slam, they will have the majority of guys on tour and whoever finishes second will get the next most, that’s generally what it’s been, historically that has been the case.
“It’s a big game but, like I said before the last game, if there was no Lions tour this year, all the motivation is the exact same; you are playing for your country, you are playing against England.
“You are incredibly motivated to represent the jersey properly and to represent the people and everyone involved with it.
“Nothing changes that much but, in the back of your mind, it’s a big game in that regard [Lions places] as well.”
Grand Slam-chasing Wales are already assured of finishing ahead of Ireland, England and Scotland following wins over each of their rivals.
Ireland are seeking to record a third successive victory after defeating Italy and Scotland to bounce back from narrow losses against Wales and France.
Meanwhile, England travel to Dublin buoyed by a thrilling success over Les Bleus but ruing shock losses in their Calcutta Cup contest with Gregor Townsend’s team and to Wayne Pivac’s Wales, which prematurely extinguished hopes of a title defence.
Sexton feels Saturday’s game could easily have been a championship decider and, regardless of the outcome, anticipates looking back on the tournament with regret.
“Ultimately, even if we do finish on a high, we will look back on this as one that got away,” said Sexton.
“I have talked about the Welsh game going down to 14 and the French game, how close that was, we could very easily be going for a championship this weekend – the same as England.
“There is so little between a lot of the teams in this competition and that’s been proven, you look through the tournament and the results that have happened back up what I’m saying.
“There is very little between the teams, very little between going for a Grand Slam and nothing, but we’re determined to finish on a high.”
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