The British and Irish Lions have one out-and-out world class player and boy ‘did they need him on Saturday morning’. Owen Farrell was brought on in the second half, and rescued a failing Lions effort.
The Lions laboured to a 13-7 win over the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians in Whangarei thanks to Anthony Watson’s try. However it owed much to the introduction of Farrell. After 48 minutes, the Saracens man orchestrated the Watson try that proved to be the game changer.
If Farrell’s name wasn’t already written in ink for the First Test in three weeks-time, then it must be now. The England fly-half changed the tempo when he replaced the lacklustre Jonny Sexton, but he wasn’t the only man who’s Test chances were altered.
Forward Thinking – The Assessment
An ‘all Welsh back row’ featured two of the three likely Test starters with Sam Warburton and Taulupe Faletau starting alongside Ross Moriarty.
Faletau (above image) showed; whilst he might not be at a Billy Vunipola level, he’s still got the skill-set to cause the All Blacks problems. He carried well and displayed a ‘fleet footedness’ that Vunipola doesn’t have. Not to mention showing the defensive side of the game when he completed an excellent covering tackle before holding his opposition up, and saving a dead-cert try.
Kyle Sinckler was another man who did his chances no harm, even if he does have an almighty task to wrestle the three jersey off Tadhg Furlong. Nevertheless the Harlequins man was all over the pitch covering ground excellently. He also linked beautifully with his backs which allowed them to play at a tempo that caused the Provincial Barbarians endless problems.
The likes of Alun Wyn Jones and Rory Best, despite the aura they possess with their countries, are by no means nailed on Test starters. Both did little to further their case in most appraisals of the result. Best was replaced by the man many believe, should start at hooker in Jamie George. Jones, unfortunately, looks to have brought his Ospreys form with him to the Southern Hemisphere. He will need to rediscover his 2013 levels, and not rely on Welsh loyalty for his spot.
Backs Going Backwards Far Too Often
Where to start? For all the accolades and praise he receives, Stuart Hogg did little to crush the question marks hovering over his head. Not entirely convincing under the high ball and with Liam Williams available, going forward he could find himself in a fullback battle.
His Scottish team mates Tommy Seymour and Greg Laidlaw looked to have fallen down the pecking order too. Laidlaw was replaced by Rhys Webb and the speed with which he produced ball from the breakdown, was below his standard. The Clermont bound scrum-half has often been criticized for his speed of delivery, and that was justified on Saturday morning.
Sexton was very low-key in his work. Distributing more than acting, his calls to place kicks were not agreed to by Lions fans in the stand. Once replaced, the emphasis changed. If the Lions look forward to the Blues game, then Dan Bigger or Farrell must be chosen.
Few Players Staking a Claim
Other than the England trio of Farrell, Ben Te’o and Anthony Watson, there were few in the backs who can feel satisfied with Saturday’s opener.
Worcester’s Te’o was one of the surprise inclusions on squad announcement day. But Watson looked a class apart from the majority of his teammates. He constantly carried: making meters, getting himself over the gainline. His rugby league background was clear to see by his constant want to offload and keep the ball alive.
Watson scored the Lions only try ( see above image) and, despite it being clear he’s been out of the international arena for almost a year, that match sharpness is returning. It was only a poor Hogg pass that stopped him scoring in the first half. Ultimately, the backline in general were limited by the lack of precision from numbers 9 to 13.
Farrell, despite only playing half an hour, showed that he remains the Lions’ linchpin and pivotal to any success they hope to enjoy. Within two minutes of replacing Sexton in the first-five role, Farrell had put a pin-point kick into the corner. He then sent Moriarty through a hole and put Watson over the whitewash.
It’s a bit early to start thinking about who nailed their Test starting place. More games under their belts will help the entire British and Irish Lions touring group. Bigger should be afforded a start in Auckland. But for mine, there is only one name suitable enough to play 10 for the Lions…..Farrell, Farrell and Farrell.
The Lions take on the Blues on Wednesday in what all involved will hope is a marked improvement on Saturday. Those involved in domestic finals return to the fold, and with any luck that winning feeling will inject some much needed impetuous for those in red.
NZ Provincial Barbarians 7 – Try: S. Anderson-Heather; Conversion: B. Gatland
British & Irish Lions 13 – Try: A. Watson; Penalties: J. Sexton, G. Laidlaw; Con: O. Farrell
“Main Photo Credit”