LONDON (AFP) – Lions coach Warren Gatland has gambled everything on tomorrow’s make-or-break second Test with New Zealand, according to the British media.
The Daily Telegraph sums up Gatland’s decision to play in his selection of England’s Owen Farrell at inside centre and Ireland’s Jonathan Sexton at fly-half as the “biggest call of his career” with The Sun and The Times newspapers declaring the Kiwi as “going for broke”.
However, England’s 2003 World Cup winning fly-half Jonny Wilkinson swims against this tide regarding the decision.
Wilkinson tells The Daily Telegraph despite the experiment not coming off when Lions head coach Clive Woodward picked him and then Wales fly-half Stephen Jones in the first Test against the All Blacks in 2005 he believes this can work.
“You don’t take the number off your back (referring to the fly-half No10) and wither,” he said.
“When you have that balance, when you’re both in the game and controlling it, it’s an amazing feeling.”
However, the same newspaper’s rugby correspondent compares Gatland’s selection unfavourably with his equally contentious one of dropping Irish icon Brian O’Driscoll for the deciding Test against Australia on the 2013 Lions tour — Gatland ended up being praised as the Lions won to take the series 2-1.
“That was a daring move (O’Driscoll). This is a salvage mission,” he opined.
Most of the British media bemoan the dropping of centre Ben Te’o to accommodate Sexton and Farrell’s partnership saying Te’o had managed to keep opposite number Sonny Bill Williams quiet in the first Test last weekend.
The Daily Mail takes Gatland to task for putting them alongside each other in such an important match when they have minimal experience playing together.
“Warren Gatland has gambled by picking Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell for the Lions in the win-or-bust second Test against New Zealand,” commented their correspondent.
“The pair have never started together and have played only 75 minutes alongside each other on this tour.
“But they will now link up as fly-half and inside centre on Saturday in a game the Lions -— 1-0 down —- must win to keep the three-match series alive.”
However, England’s World Cup-winning coach Woodward applauds the decision. “The plus sides of this arrangement are considerable,” said the 61-year-old.
“We saw last week the attacking and counter-attacking capability of Liam Williams, Elliot Daly and Anthony Watson and that could be enhanced with this twin playmaker set-up.
“One I like because of the extra options it gives you.”
The Times resorts to dry humour to assess Gatland’s call.“Jonathan Sexton and Owen Farrell must have been simply outstanding in training,” he wrote.
“They must be purring. They must be displaying a chemistry like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.”
This has to be the explanation for the selection of Sexton and Farrell together at No 10 and No 12.
“It is a far sight better than the alternative interpretation, which is that Warren Gatland is shuffling his cards and has resorted to playing a gambler’s hand.”
Finally despite his doubts The Daily Telegraph correspondent issues a rousing rallying call.
“This is a time for the bugle call to sound,” he says.
“Gatland has rolled the dice. Boom or bust, jackpot or penury? “On this selection rests so much.”
• All Blacks fullback Ben Smith will not be considered for the third and final Test against the British and Irish Lions next week even if he passes concussion protocols.
Smith was replaced in New Zealand’s first-Test win after suffering his third concussion this year.