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Sexton no foregone conclusion at 10 as Gatland keeps options open

The Lions boss believes Owen Farrell and Dan Biggar will push the Irishman all the way.

JOHNNY SEXTON LOOKED like the best Lions-eligible out-half during the Six Nations, but his position as first-choice 10 against New Zealand is not a foregone conclusion, according to Warren Gatland.

The main obstacle in Sexton’s way is Owen Farrell, a man who didn’t even play at out-half during the Six Nations but has been in superb form in the 10 shirt for Saracens in their run to the Champions Cup semi-finals.

pjimage The Lions have three strong options in the 10 shirt.

And Lions head coach Gatland says people shouldn’t view Dan Biggar as the Lions’ third-choice out-half, with the Welshman set to provide a fierce challenge to Sexton and Farrell.

Gatland had previously challenged Ireland’s Sexton to show his physical durability and while he is happy that the 31-year-old has done so, he hasn’t made his mind up about who will start for the Lions yet.

“There’s no doubt Johnny has got some leadership,” said Gatland at yesterday’s squad announcement in London. “The great thing about those three 10s is they all think they’re better than each other. That’s the biggest thing in the squad.

It’s pleasing to see Johnny get a few games under his belt. He was pretty battered and bruised after the Wales-Ireland game [in the Six Nations], so for him to front up the next week against England and play so well was really positive from my point of view.

“There’s no doubt he’s going to be targeted. I think all 10s are. One of the things about our 10s is that all of them are strong defenders and that’s going to be paramount in that channel, having players who can get off the line.

“That’s a strength of Owen Farrell’s, I think he’s going to have leadership in that role, whether that’s at 10 and we know he’s capable of playing at 12 if we want him to do that. Defensively, we’re going to have to be strong in that area.

“We’ve been pleased with Johnny and hopefully he stays fit over the next six weeks.”

Speaking to Sky Sports after Saracens’ impressive Champions Cup quarter-final victory over Glasgow earlier this month, Farrell was asked what his preferred position was.

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Jonathan Sexton and Owen Farrell 31/5/2013 Sexton and Farrell were both on the 2013 tour. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The England international stressed that “I’m a 10″ but indicated that he was content to play 12 if required, before repeating that “I’m a 10. I’m a 10″

Gatland confirmed that the Lions have definitely selected Farrell as an out-half but said they are not discounting using him in the inside centre slot that many are predicting.

We’ve picked Owen as a 10,” said Gatland. “I think there’s going to be a lot of competition in that position, the thing is people are saying either Johnny or Owen is going to play but don’t discount the competitiveness of Dan Bigger.

“He isn’t going to lie down and that’s what we want. But it could be a scenario where we end up with the best players on the field and if the best players end up being Johnny Sexton or Dan Biggar at 10 and Owen Farrell at 12 then we’ll do that.

“We’re confident we know that Owen Farrell can do that job for us, he’s done it for England.”

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