“If I was opposite [Owen] Farrell and [Johnny] Sexton I’d think all my Christmases had come at once and the All Blacks will think exactly the same thing.”
— Jeremy Guscott
Following the Lions’ 12-3 victory over the Crusaders, Jeremy Guscott drew the conclusion that Farrell and Sexton should not be playing in the 10-12 combination for the Northern Hemisphere side in the first test against the All Blacks.
However, to suggest such a statement – to the extent that it would be like ‘Christmas’ coming at once’ – is both insulting, and ill-measured comments from the former England centre.
The combination worked against a side unbeaten in 14 matches after the injury sustained to Jonathan Davies, and the pairing playing together should give encouragement to Warren Gatland that he has that option of a Sexton-Farrell combination come the 24th of June.
Guscott has proposed to play Farrell at 10, with Ben Te’o at 12. However, the reason for the Lions’ victory over the Crusaders was because of how good the touring side were in defence. The intensity and organisation allowed the Lions to totally suffocate and stifle any sort of running game the Super Rugby side wanted to get going.
In Farrell and Sexton at 10 and 12, you have two brilliant game management players who can orchestrate such a defensive structure. For all of Te’o’s brilliance in ball carrying, this is also likely to cause him to be dragged out the defensive lines. A lot has been made of the Lions needing to take the game to the All Blacks – and Te’o would be brilliant at putting his hand up for this – but the pressing and intensity of the Lions in defence is what can keep them in the series against New Zealand.
Having Farrell and Sexton to control this – with a world-class operator in Farrell who has done it at international level – would provide the Lions with both the confidence, and structure to challenge the All Blacks.
Farrell and Sexton are also the Lions’ best two backs. To beat an All Blacks side, you have to accommodate your best players in the side; such accommodation worked on Saturday after the injury to Davies. You have an extra distributor in the backs; an extra pivot to run the game, and take the game to the All Blacks through thought rather than physicality.
The fine margins of a poor pass, all too familiar from the likes of Te’o in the Crusaders game, and Stuart Hogg in the Barbarians game is what could cost the Lions a test victory. The likes of Farrell and Sexton both play the percentages; the ball players who always hit the mark – having these two options only boosts the Lions’ chances of victory.
Adding to this, you have two world-class goal kickers; two options to either take the pressure off the other, or sub in should your first choice – Farrell – not be on song from the tee. The Sarries man missed a routine three points in both the Barbarians and Crusaders game; some needed reassurance from Sexton could be important if a game is to come down to the fine margins of three points.
In what is a positive problem for Gatland to have such good options, the Kiwi-born coach still has a few games to test out his best side. But, the Lions – so far – looked most convincing playing this partnership in New Zealand, and should try it one more time before the 24th of June.
Would either Farrell or Sexton make it into the all-time Lions XV…
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