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With no Jonny Sexton, Brian O’Driscoll looks at Warren Gatland’s options at 10 for the Lions

Warren Gatland announced a much-discussed British and Irish Lions squad on Thursday for the Lions...


With no Jonny Sexton, Brian O’Driscoll looks at Warren Gatland’s options at 10 for the Lions

Warren Gatland announced a much-discussed British and Irish Lions squad on Thursday for the Lions tour to South Africa in July.

While there has been many points of discussion since the announcement, one of the largest has been the omission of Ireland’s Johnny Sexton.

However, without the Irish captain, Gatland will be looking at the merits of the three flyhalves that he included in his side, which include Owen Farrell, Finn Russell and Dan Biggar.

Speaking on Thursday’s Off The Ball, Lions legend Brian O’Driscoll discussed the options that Gatland has for his starting out half.

The former Lions captain does not believe that Farrell will be getting much game time in the 10 shirt, as he feels that the English captain is heading to South Africa predominantly as an inside centre.

“I do think [Owen Farrell] will start at 12,” O’Driscoll said. “I think Dan Biggar is the man to start the test match here and now.

“I don’t know if there are many 15s that are better than [Biggar] catching high balls, of which there will be lots against South Africa.

“For me, [Biggar] and Farrell, depending on who is kicking the better goals, will play 10 and 12, and that is a pretty strong defensive axis as well.”

While he strongly believes that Biggar has the starting test jersey in hand, O’Driscoll did not rule out the possibility of Russell playing himself into the starting role ahead of the tests.

“I guess a lot will come down to the early performances on the tour and who puts their hand up,” O’Driscoll said.

“Right now, I do think that Dan Biggar is the guy in possession, and it is for Finn Russell to dispossess.”

Finn Russell Lions Flyhalf British and Irish Lions Finn Russell during the Captains Run at Beetham Park, Hamilton.

Finn Russell is not the typical Gatland flyhalf

While Russell is a very exciting prospect at out half, O’Driscoll believes that he does not suit the typical Gatland style of play to start the test matches.

“Finn Russell is really not a Warren Gatland type player,” O’Driscoll said. “We have seen him for Scotland and particularly for Racing [92].

“We all love watching him, but it is difficult for him to conform to a particular model and a more contained model, which you will likely see at times from Warren Gatland’s perspective.

“The Lions have scored some brilliant tries under Warren Gatland as well, so don’t think that it is only Warrenball to be expected.

“But I just feel as though there is a security that comes with Dan Biggar, that he doesn’t have those really loose moments that could be catastrophic, which Finn Russell still possesses.

“It makes people nervous and excited, and it is fine if you are a neutral, but if he is your guy, it just tightens you up a little bit.

“I would be interested to see how much Gregor Townsend does push Finn Russell.”

For O’Driscoll, what makes Russell an exciting player to watch is also what keeps him out of the Lions’ starting XV.

“I do love watching him,” O’Driscoll said. “[But] when he picks up a yellow card, the smiles and stuff, there is a nervousness around that.

“He just looks at the game very differently. I don’t think you can go, ‘oh he doesn’t care’. He cares in his own way.

“He has gotten better at [tightening things up], but he still has [an intercept pass] in him, but he has got the magician ball in him too.

“He can pull that real x-factor pass that not many other 10s have in their armoury.

“We do love to see it, but at the same time, against a hard-press defence, against an intercepting team, I don’t know if that’s the guy you want in there to be able to nudge you in the right spots and play that gameplan that is probably just a bit too simplified for what Finn Russell wants to play.”

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Brian O'Driscoll Dan Biggar Finn Russell Johnny Sexton Lions Owen Farrell Warren Gatland