Lions Tour 2017: Owen Farrell wins his race to be fit to face New Zealand in first Test

Coach Warren Gatland yesterday upgraded his view of Farrell’s chances of recovering from a thigh strain which gives the improving tourists a big lift heading into the series.

“I’ve always been confident about Owen being fit for the weekend. I’ve never not been confident,” said Gatland. “At a pinch he probably could have played on Saturday.”

Farrell missed the 32-10 win over the New Zealand Maori which was the tourists’ best performance so far. They will need to take another step up this weekend, particularly in attack, but hooker Jamie George believes they are capable of doing so.

“I feel like there’s much more to come, I really do. In the games I’ve played in there has been huge progression. Just look at the way we defended against the Maori. We felt very comfortable there,” said George.

“We’re trying to put teams under as much pressure as possible. We’re doing that and we put down a marker with the way we played, the way we defended and with our set-piece. We’re still developing as a team and finding an identity. I think we’re pushing towards doing something special.”

The Lions have though scored only seven tries in five games and Gatland is demanding more from star wing George North.

“I think George has done alright going forward but I’d like to see him get his hands on the ball a bit more and use some of that footwork and power that he has,” said Gatland.

“We know what potential he has, but he hasn’t quite filled that at the moment. He is the sort of guy who can get a loose ball and score from 60 metres.”

Tomorrow, the Lions will field a second string in Hamilton against a Chiefs side captained by veteran fly-half Stephen Donald. Temporary squad additions Gareth Davies, Kristian Dacey, Cory Hill, Tomas Francis, Allan Dell and Finn Russell, whose call-up has drawn strong criticism, will all warm the bench before leaving the tour next Wednesday.

“Warren’s made it no secret this was his plan all along,” said scrum-half Greig Laidlaw. “It’s something he did on the Australia tour in 2013. He thought it would be successful then and it did indeed work, and he’s now gone down the same track.

“Ultimately it’s about looking after the Test squad. It’s about looking after everyone to make sure we get the best performance in the Test matches.” ends

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