Owen Farrell injury leaves Lions with leadership crisis
Fly half is withdrawn from squad and may not be fit for first Test against the Maori All Blacks
Owen Farrell could be ruled out of the British and Irish Lions' first Test against New Zealand after he was withdrawn from the squad due to face New Zealand Maori on Saturday following a thigh strain.
The Saracens star has appeared to be the most effective of the Lions fly halves on the tour but is now a doubt for the three-match series against the All Blacks.
Farrell had been named on the bench for the match in Rotorua on Saturday but has since been replaced. "It was a small but very significant team change," says Owen Slot of The Times.
Farrell has been replaced in the squad for Saturday's game by Dan Biggar, "but the bigger issue is whether he will be sufficiently recovered to play in the first Test against New Zealand at all" Slot adds.
"It is hard to over-estimate his importance to this Lions cause, as a play-maker, goal-kicker and leader of granite self-belief. If there were two players, before this tour started, who you would have wanted to see starting in the first Test in Auckland on 24 June, they would have been Farrell and Billy Vunipola. Now one is gone and the other is questionable."
Farrell has a "grade one" strain, which should take no more than ten days to heal. But there is cause for concern because it's not the first time the 25-year-old has suffered a quad injury, says Gavin Mairs of the Daily Telegraph. "In 2014 he was ruled out of action for a month with a similar injury at the start of the season.
"Farrell's setback increases the pressure on [Jonathan] Sexton to rediscover his form on what is his second start of the tour.
"The Ireland fly-half was disappointing against the Provincial Barbarians but looked more assured when coming on for Jonathan Davies in the victory over the Crusaders."
With Farrell's inclusion now in doubt, "this weekend's midfield combination of Sexton, Ben Te'o and Jonathan Davies are on standby to feature against New Zealand as well", reports Robert Kitson of The Guardian.
He also says that Lions skipper Sam Warburton, who is on the bench on Saturday, has yet to convince on the tour. As a result, he may not be in contention to play in the first Test either.
"If neither [Farrell or Warburton] start the first Test for reasons of injury and form respectively, the Lions's stock of on-field leaders will be conspicuously depleted," Kitson warns.