Farrell’s step up eases Lions 10 concerns, but they still need a third option


Over much of the past twelve months my thoughts have continually turned to the red number 10 shirt of the British and Irish Lions when I think of areas that could disable the tourists challenge.

It was not that I did not think they had one, far from it; Jonny Sexton, in my opinion, looks set to give the Lions the best option they have had at fly half since Jonny Wilkinson in 2001.

No, my worry was what would happen if Sexton, as he is now, got injured. Ever since Rhys Priestland’s form tailed off after the 2011 Rugby World Cup there has appeared to be no top quality alternative to Sexton, should the worst happen.

My concerns have been eased in the last few weeks though and the rise of Owen Farrell has everything to do with it.

Before the Six Nations began Farrell was an option for the Lions but by no means a certain tourist. His nerveless kicking and steely determination were admired everywhere but other parts of his game seemed thoroughly underdeveloped.

In the first two weeks of the Six Nations though, Farrell has elevated himself not just to a certain tourist but also to a genuine challenger to Sexton. Sexton is still the first choice, but he now has someone pushing him.

Farrell is now looking comfortable when taking the ball flat, and at ease as puts teammates into space. His leadership skills, which have always been obvious, have developed even further as he becomes a real dictator of England’s play. In short, he is developing the all round game that all have said he needs to.

I still have a nagging worry in my mind though, Gatland has said he will be taking three fly halves, and the selection of a third is an area that could prove decisive on the tour. Remember this is a man who will almost certainly start in midweek and could well bench for the Test side.

Does he go with an experienced head like Jonny Wilkinson or Ronan O’Gara, or an all-rounder like James Hook or Greig Laidlaw who could cover more than one position, freeing up a position elsewhere.

He could even pick a bolter like Paddy Jackson or his namesake Ruaraidh or Freddie Burns. He may even take a chance and gamble on Rhys Preistland, despite that fact that he will be short of match practice.

Personally I would take Hook, he offers versatility, which could be invaluable, and the Australian conditions will suit his game perfectly. He is a risk though; he has had very little international game time lately and could be targeted in defence.

Wilkinson may also be a good option, certainly he is the type of character that would make an ideal midweek leader, and he could add valuable input on the training field to the other kickers, not to mention his knowledge of how to perform under pressure. The worry is though that his presence may become a big media distraction and therefore a distraction for the tour.

It is a tough call for Gatland to make, but an important one. As Sir Ian McGeechan has so often said, anyone can select the first 20-25 names of the tour party but it is the rest of the names that make the difference between a winning tour and a losing one.

So my number 10 worries have been eased by Owen Farrell, there are two reliable and good options out of three. I just hope that the third option can completely ease those fears.

Who would you pick?

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