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Lions boss defends under-fire Farrell

Warren Gatland leapt to the defence of Saracens out-half Owen Farrell, saying that he had the utmost confidence that the 21-year-old would flourish in the Lions environment over the next fortnight ahead of their departure for Australia.

Farrell has had a bumpy ride of late, finishing off the Six Nations as part of a well-beaten England side, then struggling to impose himself as his club slipped out of the Heineken Cup and the Aviva Premiership at the semi-final stage.

Sunday's defeat to Northampton was a surprise although the upside for the Lions is that Farrell is now available to attend the training camps, this week in Wales and next week in Ireland.

That time together is a precious asset for Lions head coach Gatland as Farrell is one of only two out-halves in the 37-man party, the other being Leinster's Jonny Sexton.

"It's been tough (for Owen) but one of the things that has always impressed me about him is the way in which he responds to adversity," said Gatland.

"Every time there is a bit of criticism he comes back fighting, showing himself to be stronger for things in the future. He is mentally tough, he has a strong character. I'm confident he will do well on tour."

Saracens' defeat means that Farrell will start for the Lions in their opening game of their 10-match tour against the Barbarians in Hong Kong. Sexton will have no time whatsoever to train alongside his team-mates ahead of their departure on May 27, a mere two days after the Pro12 final.

Gatland made no attempt to rein back on his policy of choosing only two No 10s, despite the risk that one of them will have to cover from the bench or that one might get injured.

"It is always a question of debate," Gatland said. "We have gone with what we think is right in order to give our playmakers as much game time as possible." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent