Johnny Sexton admits Guinness Six Nations games against Scotland and England represent major opportunities for Ireland players to book their seats on this summer’s British and Irish Lions tour.

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Ireland travel to Murrayfield on Sunday looking to build on victory over Italy before completing the championship at home to Eddie Jones’ men six days later.

“It’s not at the forefront of our thoughts because even if it wasn’t a Lions year we would still be going out to win the game, of course, and to put our best foot forward,” said Ireland captain Sexton, who toured with the Lions in 2013 to Australia and to New Zealand four years later.

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“But in the back of your mind, you know the next two are pretty important games in terms of those Lions selections.

“It will help the Irish cause if we can pick up a couple of wins, it will help get more numbers on the plane and that is ultimately what we want – we want to get as many Irish people on that trip as possible. It is definitely in the back of our minds somewhere.”

Ireland are seeking to salvage some pride in the tournament after successive defeats to Wales and France ruined their title hopes. Sexton believes keeping opposing fly-half Finn Russell quiet could be key to winning in Edinburgh. “He is obviously a big threat for us, knowing that he’s got a full box of tricks that he tries to pull out most games,” said Sexton. “He can pull the strings if we let him and he has hurt us in the past.

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We haven’t played against him the last couple of times we’ve played Scotland, so we’ve got to go back and look at some old footage. He’s been in good form for his club, he’s a massive threat – like they have across their team.”

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