'I was disappointed with Dan Biggar... I think Farrell sees the space better'
The La Rochelle coach – who toured with the Lions in 2003, 2005 and 2009 – had raised questions about Finn Russell’s mercurial temperament in recent weeks, suggesting the Scot is a better option to spring from the bench. ‘Can he [Russell] weave his magic in the first 30 minutes of a Test match? I wouldn’t be so sure.”
With Russell now unlikely to play any further part in the tour with an Achille’s injury, Gatland is effectively left with a straight shootout between Farrell and Biggar for the starting 10, with late call-up Marcus Smith likely to feature as a midweek option.
O’Gara was critical of Biggar’s performance in the Lions’ Cell C Sharks replay on Saturday, suggesting his decision making isn’t on par with his English counterpart.
“I would base my Test team around Conor Murray and Owen Farrell. I was disappointed with Dan Biggar,” Ronan O’Gara said on Sky Sport’s after match analysis. “I thought he kicked the ball away unnecessarily twice, and it’s his capacity to see space. I think Farrell sees the space better.
“To back up that argument, when Biggar passes inside to Anthony Watson late on, there’s 50 or 60 metres of space with no defenders on the left-hand side. But that’s being very harsh.”
O’Gara is also unconvinced as to who the Lions will play in the midfield, seeing it as a problem selection for Gatland.
“It’s a real position of strength is the No 10, and there’s debate around No 12 and No 13 with probably a big meeting needed there.
“I think the big challenge at the minute is who to pick at 13. I don’t see a striking candidate.
“Robbie Henshaw probably would have been favoured until he got a hamstring injury, which creates a cloud over him.
“And in the back of my mind, when he plays in the centre with Garry Ringrose for Ireland, Ringrose plays at 13.
“I like the combination of Bundee Aki at 12 and Henshaw at 13, but there are so many options with the quality of players they have on this tour.”
O’Gara also hailed the decision to call Smith in the touring team as a replacement for Russell. Smith was only told of his call-up to the series after coming off during England’s hammering of Canada in Twickenham.
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“I think it’s unbelievably exciting for a 22-year-old. Imagine his feeling coming off at Twickenham, he’s delighted, and all of a sudden he’s getting on a plane to go down to South Africa,” O’Gara said.
“I agree with [Sir Ian McGeechan] in that it is like for like. I think it would probably be a different decision if Owen Farrell or Dan Biggar got injured.
“I think that’s when you have a goal-kicking 10 coming out, like Johnny Sexton, someone like that who can manage the game.
“This is a very smart move in that it is like for like and it is a bit of a Mulligan in that you try and introduce him with very little pressure – and he’s someone who can potentially alter a game after 50 minutes.”
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