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Lions have no doubt that Owen Farrell will be 100% fit for first Test

The England international is set to start at 10 or 12.

Murray Kinsella reports from Hamilton

AS THE FIRST Test against the All Blacks looms, the Lions have been handed a major boost with confirmation that Owen Farrell will be fully fit to face the hosts at Eden Park next weekend.

The England international picked up a quad strain in training before the Lions’ clash with the Maori All Blacks on Saturday and there had been great fear that he would miss out on the first Test.

Owen Farrell Farrell will be ready for the first Test. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

But Lions boss Warren Gatland says the influential Farrell will be ready to go.

“He could have played on Saturday,” said Gatland on Sunday afternoon in Hamilton. “If it was a Test match he would have played. We just made a decision that it wasn’t worth taking that risk.

“It’s a quad strain that was very high and it’s not on his kicking leg, it’s on his left leg. I’ve no doubt that he will be 100% fit for the first Test. He will train tomorrow.”

It is a major boost for the Lions, with Farrell now the favourite to start at out-half for the tourists against the All Blacks.

That said, Johnny Sexton delivered an outstanding performance against the Maori in the Lions’ 10 shirt and there remains a possibility that Gatland will pair up Farrell and the Irish out-half as a 10-12 combination.

Sexton, after a poor start to the tour, has done all he can to convince Gatland of his merits.

“He was good,” said Gatland of Sexton. “I thought he started the tour really ropey. I was pretty disappointed with the way he played for Leinster in that semi-final.

“It was not a typical Johnny Sexton performance and in the BaaBaas game, it didn’t go particularly well for him and he seemed to lack a bit of confidence.

“But coming on against the Crusaders and on Saturday, he has come back and played well.

“Generally his kicking game has been pretty good, he attacked the line, put us into some holes and he played flat too, which was better compared to Damian McKenzie, who tended to play pretty deep. We are really happy with him.”

It leaves the Lions with the positive conundrum of fitting Sexton, Farrell, Ben Te’o, Jonathan Davies and Jonathan Joseph into their 10-12-13 combination for Saturday’s first Test.

Owen Farrell and Jonathan Sexton Farrell and Sexton could play together in the first Test. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Gatland wasn’t giving too much away as he attempts to keep the All Blacks guessing. And the Sexton-Farrell connection hasn’t been ruled out just yet.

“It’s one of the potential scenarios. We could go that way, we could potentially change and do that during the match as well. We haven’t sat down and discussed and we’ll wait until Wednesday. We’ve got an idea in our heads.

“There’s obviously been some good performances, the 12-13 combination [between Te'o and Davies] last night was pretty good, balanced. Ben Te’o’s done really well and has caused opposition teams problems, Jonathan Joseph against the Highlanders looked dangerous as well.

“And then we’ve got some choices at 10 and do we look at Sexton-Farrell combination too in terms of that distributing ability? But we are creating some chances, we are getting in behind teams too.”

Among the other selection debates for the Lions is the left wing, where George North was poor against the Maori All Blacks but has some strong history.

Elliot Daly still has a chance to force his way into the Test team with a big performance against the Chiefs on Tuesday, according to Gatland, though he wants to see more from the physically imposing but out-of-sorts North.

“One of the things with George is it’s a target for all out wingers to try and get 15 touches of the ball because it tends to make a difference,” said Gatland. “I think he has done alright going forward.

“Jonathan Davies’ kick throughs, he has put a lot of pressure on close to the goal line. I’d like to see him [North] get his hands on the ball a bit more and use some of that footwork and power that he has going forward. We are going to have some quite lengthy debates in terms of finalising that back three.

“It’s giving our wings the licence to roam. The best player in the northern hemisphere at doing that is Jack Nowell. I think he is absolutely outstanding in terms of the amount of touches he has in the game and his pick and go.

George North The Lions need to see more from North. Source: Photosport/Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

“Sometimes that combination takes a bit of time. That communication and understanding will hopefully continue. Some players, you like them to hold their width and stay on the wing.

“Others you want a number of touches in terms of the impact that they can have and Jack is one of them. George for me is a player who needs to get his hands on the ball as much as possible.”

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