Lions push playmakers

30 June 2017 - 08:16 By AFP
Lions head coach Warren Gatland. File photo.
Lions head coach Warren Gatland. File photo.

Lions coach Warren Gatland has gambled everything in his selection of Owen Farrell at inside centre and Jonathan Sexton at flyhalf for the make-or-break second Test withNew Zealand tomorrow, according to the British media.

The Daily Telegraph sums up Gatland's decision to play both the England and Ireland playmakers as the "biggest call of his career", with The Sun and The Times declaring the Kiwi as "going for broke".

The Times compared Gatland's selection unfavourably to his equally contentious one of dropping Irish icon Brian O'Driscoll for the deciding Test against Australia on the 2013 Lions tour - but Gatland ended up being praised as the Lions won to take the series 2-1.

"That was a daring move [O'Driscoll]. This is a salvage mission," he opined.

Most of the British media bemoan the dropping of centre Ben Te'o to accommodate Sexton and Farrell's partnership, saying Te'o had managed to keep opposite number Sonny Bill Williams quiet in the first Test last weekend.

The Daily Mail takes Gatland to task for putting Sexton and Farrell next to each other in such an important match when they have minimal experience playing together.

"Warren Gatland has gambled by picking Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell for the Lions in the win-or-bust second Test against New Zealand," commented their correspondent.

"The pair have never started together and have played only 75 minutes alongside each other on this tour. But they will now link up as flyhalf and inside centre on Saturday in a game the Lions - 1-0 down - must win to keep the three-match series alive."

However, England's 2003 World Cup-winning coach Clive Woodward, writing in the same newspaper, applauded the decision.

"The plus sides of this arrangement are considerable," remarked the 61-year-old.

"We saw last week the attacking and counterattacking capability of Liam Williams, Elliot Daly and Anthony Watson and that could be enhanced with this twin playmaker set-up.

"One I like because of the extra options it gives you."

The Times resorted to dry humour to assess Gatland's call.

"Jonathan Sexton and Owen Farrell must have been simply outstanding in training," it wrote.

"They must be purring. They must be displaying a chemistry like that between Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.

"This has to be the explanation for the selection of Sexton and Farrell together at No10 and No12.

"It is a far sight better than the alternative interpretation, which is that Warren Gatland is shuffling his cards and has resorted to playing a gambler's hand," the newspaper said.