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The crucial message the Lions have given to benched Owen Farrell

By Liam Heagney

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Saturday is going to be an unusual Test match experience for Owen Farrell after the Lions decided he didn’t merit a place in their starting XV for this Saturday’s series opener versus the Springboks in Cape Town. The Saracens talisman is usually a starter. In his 97 Test appearances so far for England and the Lions, 85 have come with either the No10 or No12 jersey on his back. 

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That number will be different this weekend, Farrell getting handed a Lions jersey with the No22 on it. Not since Kobe in September 2019, when England defeated the USA at the World Cup, has Farrell had a bench role, but that is what he will have to get his head around on this occasion after losing out at out-half to the preferred Dan Biggar.   

Farrell started all three Lions 2017 Test matches versus New Zealand, last sitting on Gatland’s bench for the 2013 series decider versus Australia in Sydney, but the coach is optimistic the 29-year-old will have a huge role to play despite getting held in reserve along with Conor Murray, who was tour skipper for three weeks before Alun Wyn Jones’ incredible return to fitness. 

Video Spacer

Lions skipper Alun Wyn Jones on his remarkable recovery from a shoulder dislocation
Video Spacer
Lions skipper Alun Wyn Jones on his remarkable recovery from a shoulder dislocation

“It’s just his experience,” explained Gatland when asked what he wants from Farrell off the bench. “I had a good chat with him to let him know where he was. Sometimes you don’t have the answers for players, it’s just you have decided to go with the player because you feel that they are the right player at the time or you felt with Dan Biggar he was the right player. 

“The message to Owen was his experience coming off the bench and then to play instinctively and that is one of the things he has been good at in the past. He is an instinctive player, making good decisions when he takes the ball to the line, short passing or going out the back or throwing miss-passes. That experience for us is going to be important. 

“The discussion was had as well about Dan Biggar. In the past with Wales, he has been brilliant coming off the bench for us when we had Gareth Anscombe starting and Dan Biggar bringing his experience off the bench and knowing how to close out games and to win games when we had a run of victories in a row. It wasn’t just about the starting XV, there was a lot of discussion about the bench and experienced guys coming off there, guys who would be disappointed they are not starting and they want to come on and make an impact.

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“Whether that is Conor or Owen or Liam Williams, any one of the guys in the forwards, they are really going to want to come on and make an impact and that is exactly what we will be looking for and we feel these guys can come on and make a difference.”

Gatland revealed how competition for places in the side even spilt over into niggly incidents materialising on the training ground on Tuesday. “I expect the guys to be disappointed and that was the chat. They should be disappointed in missing out on selection. We have spoken about how it is not just the 23, it’s the whole squad and everyone has been putting up their hand.

“We are really pleased with the form of a lot of players in the squad and it’s how they respond to that, their responsibility in helping the Test side prepare for Saturday. I must say they have been absolutely brilliant. 

“The last couple of training sessions no one has taken a backward step and we had a pretty tasty training session yesterday, a little bit of niggle stuff that was exactly what we wanted. I take my hat off to the guys that were helping that Test team. They really fronted up and trained exceptionally well. You couldn’t ask for more from a coaching perspective.”

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The crucial message the Lions have given to benched Owen Farrell

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