The Scottish Mail on Sunday
Farrells point the way ahead as tourists get into the spirit
WHAT a huge day for the Farrell family. On the pitch, Owen bossed the game from start to finish and showed why he is so fundamental to the Lions on this tour. Meanwhile, off the pitch, his dad, Andy, should take a bow for masterminding a huge defensive effort which cut down the best attacking side in Super Rugby at source. As he approaches the best years of his career, Owen Farrell brings a calmness and control to proceedings as well as his natural aggression and physicality. He is an unusual but brilliant mix, and his combination with Conor Murray, who was absolutely on top of his game at scrum-half, is going to be the beating heart of the Lions.
Jonny Sexton also did well when he came on for the injured Jonathan Davies but the Farrell-Murray combo seems to be set in stone — and I can see why.
It is vital, though, that Sexton gets back in the swing. Farrell could get injured and having virtually like-for-like replacements in such a key position is a big plus. Each played a big part in the Lions’ impressive defensive effort organised by Farrell senior.
The Crusaders have been scoring tries for fun this year (74 in 14 Super 15 matches) and had not failed to score a try in a match since April 2015, so to shut them out was a massive achievement.
The final scoreline did not flatter the Lions, they could or should have scored a couple of tries and perhaps won by 20 points. Yes, it would help enormously if they could start putting away some of their chances but remember there were still nine players making their first start on tour yesterday. It will come, but the big challenge on modern tours is whether understanding, precision and timing can be developed quickly enough.
Elsewhere, there were some significant performances. The line-out functioned smoothly, with George Kruis immense, and he was also very physical around the park. It is such a close call at lock but I am beginning to think that Kruis is the definite Test starter, with Alun Wyn Jones, Maro Itoje — who was very good off the bench — and Courtney Lawes fighting out the second spot. Enviable riches.
Jamie George went well at hooker in probably the biggest game he has started outside of Saracens duties and he is pressing Ken Owens, one of the successes against Auckland, very hard for the Test spot.
I have always been an Anthony Watson fan. He certainly did his cause no harm with a lively performance when coming on for Stuart Hogg, who was warming to his task when felled by that freak injury, running into Murray’s elbow. As well as having gas, Watson does the basics well at full-back. I wonder if Gatland will be tempted.
Overall, the 2017 Lions impressed me yesterday and are really up and running now. I sense a great camaraderie in this group, they already seem very close knit and tight and that will serve them well.