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'What would be the bigger headline, Sexton or Finn not going?' - Rugby Pod tackles hottest Lions selection debate

By Liam Heagney

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With Warren Gatland set to announce his Lions squad on May 6 to tour South Africa later this year, the debate over which out-halves should be selected has been heating up as the weeks have gone by and the latest episode of The Rugby Pod has focused on this battle for recognition between Dan Biggar, Owen Farrell, Johnny Sexton and Finn Russell. 

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All four No10s featured on the 2017 Lions tour to New Zealand. Farrell was picked at No10 for the first Test before switching to No12 to accommodate the inclusion of Sexton as the starting out-half in games two and three against the All Blacks. 

Biggar, meanwhile, was involved in the provincial matches on that tour while Finn Russell fleetingly joined the Lions squad as one of the infamous ‘Geography Six’ and featured off the bench as a sub for Biggar in the draw with the Hurricanes.  

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Beauden Barrett predicts the outcome of the Lions versus Springboks series
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Beauden Barrett predicts the outcome of the Lions versus Springboks series

That Lions pecking order isn’t as clear-cut four years later, though. While Biggar guided Wales to 2021 Six Nations title success and Russell helped Scotland to away wins over England and France, Farrell’s form as England captain was poor while Ireland skipper Sexton struggled with injury.

Sexton’s troubles will continue into next weekend as he won’t feature in Leinster’s Heineken Champions Cup semi-final at La Rochelle, concussion issues denying him the chance of a final Lions audition, and the selection dilemma now faced by Lions boss Gatland was discussed at length by Rugby Pod co-hosts Jim Hamilton and Andy Goode.

Hamilton opened the topic and ultimately expressed fears that Russell, his fellow Scotsman, would lose out in this Lions selection battle. “I hope I’m completely wrong but I watched the Leicester-Northampton game where Dan Biggar rocked up and played the way that he played. The squad gets announced on May 6 and there is going to be a big omission.

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“I hope I’m wrong in what I say but I can see Finn Russell not being picked. I don’t want to see it and I might be completely wrong – but I say that because of how well Dan Biggar has played. He is the front-runner. Six Nations champion, hard as nails, unbelievable kicking game, unbelievable tackler, fits in the game plan that you are going to need to beat South Africa, a good lad.

“So he is in and then you have got Farrell who will go as a 10/12 definitely. Owen Farrell is one of the best players in the world. You should have seen him at the weekend against Ealing, he was unbelievable. So Faz is definitely going to go and then that leaves Sexton or Finn. 

“I don’t want to be horrible but Sexton isn’t going to play in all the games, he’s just not robust enough to do that. But he is a player that if it was a Test match you could get him right the way that you would want to play against South Africa. 

“Finn didn’t have an amazing Six Nations but let’s get this right: I want Finn to go, he should go but I’m reading into the mind of Gatland… What would be the bigger headline, Goodey, Sexton not going or Finn not going? What would you say?”

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Ex-England out-half Goode allayed his show colleague’s fears, reckoning Sexton will be the big selection casualty next week. “Sexton has had some more concussion issues, that leaves a big question… Farrell is playing in the Champo, didn’t have a good Six Nations but you know Farrell is going to get picked on reputation, on the fact that he can cover 10 and 12,” said Goode. 

“When people are looking at it on form and saying he [Farrell] shouldn’t be in, you should have Dan Biggar, you should have Finn Russell, if you are taking three it’s then got to be a heads-up between Sexton and Farrell with the questions marks around Sexton and his injuries and Farrell isn’t playing that well.

“But we all know Farrell is a Test match animal so he will go and then Biggar is playing unbelievably well. I’m a fan of him and I’m pretty sure of putting him in my Lions XV at 10 as well. And then I am a believer if you have got two players of a Farrell and a Biggar you need a point of difference with someone else.

“So you need a Finn Russell who can change you a game. If you were starting Biggar or if you are starting Farrell at 10, or even Sexton at 10, in a Test match and it’s going well you don’t need to change your 10. 10 is a position that you change in a reaction to the game so if you are getting pumped or you are losing by ten and you need some magic, you bring Finn on. If you are winning by ten and things are comfortable you don’t change your 10, so you need someone with a point of difference.

“Finn Russell should go, Biggar should go… and Sexton may miss out just purely on the fact he has injuries and on it is a tour where there is going to be bubbles and you are going to need durable players. Someone is missing out and I have a feeling it will be Sexton.”   

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'What would be the bigger headline, Sexton or Finn not going?' - Rugby Pod tackles hottest Lions selection debate

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