June 29, 2017 / 6:54 AM / 7 months ago

Lions roll the dice on Sexton-Farrell axis for knockout test

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland was always going to show his hand most obviously in his midfield selection and moving Owen Farrell into the centres for the second test against the All Blacks was a statement of intent.

The hard-running duo of Jonathan Davies and Ben Te‘o made up a successful centre partnership in the 30-15 loss in the tour opener but Gatland has clearly concluded that attack is going to be the best form of defence in Wellington.

While the Lions made several line breaks during the first test in Auckland, they still ended up 3-2 losers in the try-scoring count and Saturday’s test is one they must win to retain any hope of claiming the three-match series.

Ireland’s Jonathan Sexton will therefore come in at flyhalf and start in tandem with Farrell for the first time on this tour as the Lions look to take the game to the All Blacks from the backline.

“From an attacking perspective it has given us more of an attack with the 10-12 combination,” Gatland explained on Thursday.

”We looked at it. They haven’t started together but they have spent a bit of time together. Their combination against the Crusaders was good and they had a bit of time together last weekend as well.

”It just gives us two ball players, two kicking options. A first and second receiver and we have two left foot options with Jonathan Davies and Elliot Daly as well.

Rugby Union - British & Irish Lions Training & Press Conference - Carton House, Co. Kildare, Ireland - 22/5/17 British & Irish Lions Head Coach Warren Gatland during the press conference Reuters / Clodagh Kilcoyne Livepic

“We’re happy with the mix.”

If there is a downside to the selection it is the loss at inside centre of Te‘o, who made plenty of hard yards with ball in hand in Auckland and kept his fellow former rugby league player Sonny Bill Williams relatively quiet.

“Ben has done really well. He has carried well. Defended well. It was a tough call. He will get some time off the bench, but we made a call based on the opportunities we created and think we stretched the All Blacks at times,” Gatland added.

“We also have to do a defensive job on Sonny Bill Williams as well. He came pretty direct at us, got a couple of offloads away so it will be important we shut him down.”

Gatland said the rain forecast for Saturday in the New Zealand capital may yet change the gameplan but whatever approach the tourists took to the match, they had to leave everything on the pitch.

“It’s definitely a knockout game, you lose on Saturday and the series is over,” he said.

“We’re all pretty aware of that.”

Writing by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney; Editing by Peter Rutherford

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