British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland insists Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell can “do a job” on New Zealand battering ram Sonny Bill Williams in Saturday’s second Test.
Gatland has paired Sexton and Farrell as twin playmakers in a bid to outflank New Zealand on the counter-attack in Wellington.
Of course defensively we’ll have to do a job on Sonny Bill Williams, too. He came pretty direct at us and got away a couple of offloads, so it’s going to be important we shut him down.British & Irish Lions coach, Warren Gatland
Sam Warburton will captain the Lions, with last weekend’s captain Peter O’Mahony omitted entirely from the match squad, while Alun Wyn Jones has been retained at lock to partner Maro Itoje.
England centre Ben Te’o bashed Williams into a quiet night in the Lions’ 30-15 first Test defeat in Auckland last weekend, but Gatland remains adamant Sexton and Farrell can handle the All Blacks talisman.
“Johnny and Owen haven’t started but have had quite a bit of time together,” said Gatland of fly-half Sexton and inside centre Farrell.
“It’s just given us two ball players and two kicking options at first and second receiver, so we’re happy with the mix.
“One concern we might have is that looking at the long-range weather forecast it doesn’t look too great for Saturday night.
“So we may have to change how we play tactically. And of course defensively we’ll have to do a job on Sonny Bill Williams, too.
“He came pretty direct at us and got away a couple of offloads, so it’s going to be important we shut him down.”
Asked if Sexton and Farrell’s slighter frames against the hulking Williams could cause problems, Gatland replied: “No, not at all.
“It is tough for Ben Te’o. He’s done really well, carried well for us, defended well, so it’s been a tough call for him but he will get some time off the bench.
“So we’ve made a call on the amount of possession and opportunities we’ve created. We think we did stress the All Blacks at times last week.
“They got pretty narrow, because they played that way in an attacking perspective, so it does open up some opportunities for us if we get the ball back to attack them as well. And that’s why we’ve gone with the combinations we have.
“We allowed Sonny Bill too much time on the ball last week.
“I can’t remember Sonny Bill passing the ball in the game, but he got some good gainline for them, got a couple of good offloads away and got them some front-foot ball.
“So we just need to make sure that our line speed, that’s important for us, to stop him being as effective as he was. And we’ve been working pretty hard on that.”
Gatland admitted the Lions hierarchy talked long and hard about potentially loading their replacements bench with six forwards and just two backs.
Ireland lock Iain Henderson would most likely have made the bench had the management opted for the pack-heavy bench.
The Lions chief revealed it was the past injury profiles of the likes of Sexton, however, that swayed their thinking to name three backline replacements, in Te’o, Rhys Webb and England’s Jack Nowell.
British and Irish Lions team: L Williams (Wales), A Watson (England), J Davies (Wales), O Farrell, E Daly (both England), J Sexton, C Murray (both Ireland), M Vunipola, J George (both England), T Furlong (Ireland), M Itoje (England), AW Jones, S Warburton (both Wales, capt), S O’Brien (Ireland), T Faletau (Wales).
Replacements: K Owens (Wales), J McGrath (Ireland), K Sinckler, C Lawes (both England), CJ Stander (Ireland), R Webb (Wales), B Te’o, J Nowell (both England).