British and Irish Lions 2017: Five things we learned as the Lions got their tour back on track

With only two weeks until the first Test, time is running out to make an impression

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The Independent Online

Sexton-Farrell axis back in the frame

Warren Gatland has been adamant that Owen Farrell is in the squad as a fly-half, but the injury to Jonathan Davies shy of the half-hour mark in the 12-3 victory over the Crusaders forced the British and Irish Lions head coach into a rethink.

He had to send on Johnny Sexton, move Farrell to inside centre and Ben Te’o at outside centre, and he may just have stumbled over his Test midfield. Sexton enjoyed his best performance for quite some time after stuttering his way through the tour opener against the Provincial Barbarians, and he was able to find ways if unhinging the Crusaders defence to break the line.

Farrell meanwhile is able to command the game from either 10 or 12, and if Gatland liked what he saw from having both playmakers on the field at the same time, he could give them a run-out together from the start against the New Zealand Maori next Saturday.

O’Mahony and O’Brien stake their claim

The back-row looks a position of real strength for the Lions, but there are big decisions for Gatland to make about who starts in his Test line-up. Captain Sam Warburton should be one of the first names on the teamsheet, but with the flanker struggling with an ankle injury, his inclusion is no longer a given.

The pre-tour combination that many were anticipating saw CJ Stander and Billy Vunipola join Warburton in the back-row, but Peter O’Mahony and Sean O’Brien could be about to shake that up. The Irish pair were brilliant in defence and set the tone for the Lions’ defiant performance that kept the Crusaders to just three points.

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(Getty Images)

With Stander appearing to now be in competition with Taulupe Faletau for the No 8 shirt, O’Mahony may force his way into the blindside role, while O’Brien would be a more than worthy replacement for Warburton.

Crusaders surprised with physicality

The one thing that all of the Lions’ opposition have noted is the level of physicality that the Northern Hemisphere side bring in their defence, breakdown and set-piece work. The Crusaders were no different, and while head coach Scott Robertson said that there was nothing that the Lions did that surprised him, the players did concede that they were not expecting such a physical work-out.

This is good news for the Lions if they are to make the series against the All Blacks a competitive one. With the reigning world champions among the most physical teams in the world, the Lions will need to match fire with fire when they meet, and if they can maintain this same intensity for 80 minutes they will make life difficult for the Kiwis.

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Te’o takes his chances but Hogg running out of time

Ben Te’o is putting himself right into the mix to start the first game against the All Blacks, despite being a surprise squad selection back in April. The England centre, who can play both roles in midfield, has impressed in both of his appearances on this tour and he is giving Gatland plenty of food for thought, especially with his knowledge of New Zealand after growing up there.

However, the same cannot be said about Stuart Hogg, who must now be asking himself what is needed to catch a break on this tour. The Scotland full-back put in a below-par performance in the opening match, before being knocked out of this match by his own teammate Conor Murray.

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Hogg is running out of time to secure a Test place with Halfpenny breathing down his neck (Getty)

With Gatland pondering his options at full-back, Hogg is quickly running out of time to show Gatland he should be the starting Test XV, with Leigh Halfpenny, Liam Williams and even Anthony Watson putting their hands up for selection in the No 15 shirt.

Kiwis pleased with victory to give us a tour

There was not an awful lot of bad feeling following the Lions’ victory given that many of the New Zealand were quite happy to see the Lions suddenly look competitive. With Gatland copping plenty of stick this week from the New Zealand media, this victory at least proves that the Lions are capable of competing with the best as well as providing an entertaining spectacle.

Both of those aspects were absent on the dismal tour of 2005, and you can already see that Gatland is keen to avoid any comparisons to Sir Clive Woodwards ill-fated campaign. So, too, are the All Blacks, and given their love and respect of good competitive rugby, they will be the first to applaud the Lions off if they can take the fight to the All Blacks.

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