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Wednesday 28 June 2017

There is room for both Sexton and Farrell

'My preference would be having Johnny and Owen at 10-12': Horgan

British & Irish Lions Jonathan Sexton. The British & Irish Lions tour of New Zealand starts on June 3, exclusively on Sky Sports. Pic: Reuters
British & Irish Lions Jonathan Sexton. The British & Irish Lions tour of New Zealand starts on June 3, exclusively on Sky Sports. Pic: Reuters

The predictable clamour has come for Owen Farrell to be inserted as the British & Irish Lions out-half.

The son of the Irish and Lions defence coach Andy has already nailed his opinion to the mast by claiming to be "a ten".

This has been backed-up by the call from Ian McGeechan, an ally and confidante of coach Warren Gatland, for Farrell to be inserted as the number one fly-half.

"So good has he become, so instrumental to Saracens' play from the pivotal No 10 spot, that I think Warren Gatland should now play him at fly-half in New Zealand," said McGeechan.

This comes on top of Gatland's pre-tour view that Farrell is an out-half and, thereby, on course with Jonathan Sexton for a one-on-one duel for the test shirt.

Certainly, Sexton did not help his cause with a mediocre input into Leinster's PRO12 semi-final fall to The Scarlets last Friday night.

However, the England playmaker was not exactly foot perfect for Saracens as their dream for a double-double was thwarted by the Exeter Chiefs in a pulsating Premiership semi-final.

On the evidence of Gatland's favour for strength over style, Robbie Henshaw could be the glue between Farrell and Jonathan Davies, leaving Sexton out in the cold.

"It wouldn't surprise me if Gatland does that," considered ex-Ireland international Shane Horgan, in relation to pitting Sexton against Farrell.

"I would disagree with it, if he was to do it.

"Whether that will be his choice or he is forced into it, that will pan out over the next few weeks. My preference would still be for two first receivers and having Johnny and Farrell at 10-12.

"They are two of the best players that are open to The Lions, two of the best players, in my opinion, in the world, at the moment.

Success

"I think the success of The Lions will be in having to be more creative and not be even more physical than the All Blacks."

This is where Horgan takes a bow to how Eddie Jones has transformed England from World Cup washout to serious contenders for Japan.

"I love the way England played, particularly last year, when they went with (George) Ford and Farrell as first and second receivers.

"It gives a huge amount of options for attacking play. I see that as a better position for The Lions to be in.

"I am not sure if that is the philosophy of Warren Gatland," said Horgan.

"He may pick a single ten and that will probably come down to, in his mind, what goes on in the first few games of that series."

In fairness, Gatland has little or no time to inculcate a coherent game-plan before the first of ten matches against the New Zealand Barbarians on Saturday week.

There are further complications from the players involved in the PRO12 and Premiership finals and doubts about the fitness of Ken Owens in addition to the near mortal blow of losing Billy Vunipola.

Horgan rubbished The Lions assertion that this will be the best prepared Lions squad of all time.

It has already been recounted how there were 14 players at training last week, due to various injuries and club commitments.

It was beefed up to 30 in Carton House this week.

"That may be internal messaging for the players, for everything that can be provided in advance of the players getting on the plane," rationalised Horgan.

Impossible

"Perhaps, they are the best prepared 'Lions staff' in the history of the tours.

"It would be uncontroversial to say that it is almost impossible for the modern-day Lions touring team to be as prepared as some in the past.

"They would have spent a lot longer together, had time to gel and find out the best possible combinations.

"I don't think anyone believes The Lions preparations now are as perfect as they could be," concluded Horgan.

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