Monday 19 March 2018

Ian McGeechan: Owen Farrell has to start at 10 for the Lions next month

Jonathan Sexton and Owen Farrell are the favourites to start at 10 for the Lions next month
Jonathan Sexton and Owen Farrell are the favourites to start at 10 for the Lions next month

Ian McGeehan

You have to say that Saracens have now joined some very elite company.Only Leicester, Leinster and Toulon have ever defended the Champions Cup. Such is the age profile of this team, and their apparent appetite, that you can see Mark McCall's team continuing to dominate for a few more years yet.

They are just an incredible unit.

From some outstanding performances yesterday - I thought George Kruis was magnificent in the forwards, both Vunipola brothers carried well as usual, and Brad Barritt and Alex Goode had particularly fine games - I would have to single out Owen Farrell for special mention.

So good has he become, so instrumental to Saracens' play from the pivotal No

10 spot, that I think Warren Gatland should now play him at fly-half in New Zealand. And I think Eddie Jones should start to build his England team for

2019 around him from there as well. He will still do a brilliant job at 12.

He offers a second kicking option, and can tackle all day. But he is becoming too influential at 10 to ignore and it is from there that he can have the most impact.

Mentally, he is such a strong player. When Clermont got it back to within a point in the second half, it was Farrell time and again who got Saracens playing front-foot rugby, whether with a little chip in behind or bringing his runners on to the ball with the weight of his passing.

Clermont showed great heart to get back in the game like that - and you would have to have a heart of stone not to feel for them after their third Champions Cup final defeat in five years. But I said last week that I felt they needed to build a lead because Saracens are like an unstoppable zombie team. You just can't kill them off.

I thought Saracens took the initiative away from Clermont almost from the kick-off by going straight to a first-phase running game, which surprised the French team. Psychologically, I think it put Saracens on the front foot and only a brilliant tackle from Nick Abendanon denied Chris Ashton.

But Clermont came back well. Morgan Parra and Camille Lopez had good games, I felt, as did the Clermont back row. But they just could not get their running game going. We saw in snatches what they are capable of with their off-loading out of the tackle, and their interchanges. But Saracens are so so good off the ball. I thought it was significant that Abendanon's wonderful try came from a 90-metre one-phase move rather than as a result of multi-phase rugby. Saracens' speed off the ball, their positional play, their pressure at the breakdown, denied Clermont any tempo.

But you underestimate Saracens' attack at your peril, too. If there was two minutes that summed up their attacking threat it was the lead up to Kruis' try; phase play, carrying, playing off both nine and 10. There was a moment when Farrell was indicating to his team-mates where he wanted the ball played; the best space to play in. They have incredible control in high-pressure situations.

There was another moment, after Clermont had made it a one-point game, when Clermont knocked-on. I thought Nigel Owens called it right. You almost sensed Clermont breathed a sigh of relief. Big mistake. Saracens put the ball in behind them, Scott Spedding knocked-on and, suddenly, Saracens had a seven metre line-out from which they scored. Again a beautiful pass from Farrell in the build-up to Goode's try. And a conversion from a tight angle to make it an eight point game.

Saracens are an incredible team but Farrell was their main man. With him playing at 10, you can see their dynasty continuing for a few years yet.

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