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British and Irish Lions contenders for 2021 South Africa tour: Half-backs

Conor Murray, Owen Farrell and Dan Biggar are in the frame. Below, we look at the half-back options for the Lions…

We look through the contenders for the 2021 British and Irish Lions half-back positions, and who Warren Gatland might be looking at in terms of scrum-half and out-half ahead of his squad announcement…

British and Irish Lions contenders for 2021 South Africa tour: Half-backs

Scrum-half

Conor Murray (Munster and Ireland; Test caps: 94; British and Irish Lions tours: 2013, 2017)

The Lions Test scrum-half for all three Tests in New Zealand four years ago, Murray’s consistency of performance has wavered slightly over the years since.

British and Irish Lions contenders for 2021 South Africa tour: Half-backs

An outstanding 2018 was followed by mixed campaigns in 2019 and 2020, while in 2021 injury threatened to derail his Lions chances. That was until Murray made it back to start against England in Round 5 of the Six Nations, and looked far more like his old self. That is to say, a truly world class scrum-half.

Scrum-half is an area in which Gatland is not spoilt for choice this time around, and with Murray scoring twice in victory for Munster at Leinster last time out, the Limerick man should certainly be on the plane.

Tomos Williams (Cardiff Blues and Wales; Test caps: 21)

As a result of injuries, no one player has been able to lock down the Wales scrum-half berth, with Williams, Gareth Davies and Kieran Hardy all claiming the nine shirt in recent years, before dropping out.

British and Irish Lions contenders for 2021 South Africa tour: Half-backs

Nevertheless, Williams has proven a sharp, nippy and intelligent scrum-half, and at one stage seemed the hot favourite to claim the Lions Test spot.

His talent should see him make the plane, and from there he will have to impress further with performances in Lions red.

Kieran Hardy (Scarlets and Wales; Test caps: 4)

Somewhat a bolter in that he has only four Test caps to date, Hardy’s displays in the 2021 Six Nations, coupled with the lack of scrum-half options have handed the 25-year-old a potential chance to tour.

British and Irish Lions contenders for 2021 South Africa tour: Half-backs

Having missed out on a Wales squad place in Round 1 of the Six Nations vs Ireland (Williams and Davies were picked), a hamstring injury for Williams saw Hardy make the bench for Wales’ victory over Scotland, before he started vs England and took the Test by storm with a fine display.

Fly-half

Owen Farrell (Saracens and England; Test caps: 97; British and Irish Lions tours: 2013, 2017)

Four years ago, Farrell began the first Lions Test vs the All Blacks at out-half before shifting to inside-centre for the following two Tests, as the tourists recovered from defeat to draw a compelling series.

British and Irish Lions contenders for 2021 South Africa tour: Half-backs

Where Gatland chooses to deploy the 29-year-old in South Africa is up in the air, but Farrell is more than capable of excelling in the 10 shirt or 12 shirt for the Lions, such is his playmaking ability, defensive solidity and superb kicking game.

Either way, Farrell will be a firm part of the Lions’ plans one imagines.

Johnny Sexton (Leinster and Ireland; Test caps: 105; British and Irish Lions tours: 2013, 2017)

Over the last two Lions tours, Sexton has picked up six Test caps as a crucial figure – starting five of them as the invitational side secured a series win in Australia and then draw in New Zealand.

British and Irish Lions contenders for 2021 South Africa tour: Half-backs

Turning 36 in July, Sexton shows little signs of slowing down on the pitch and his performances in the 2021 Six Nations, particularly against Scotland and England, showed the quality he still ably possesses.

At the time of writing, Sexton is out with concussion, which will be a concern, but in terms of ability the Irish skipper has shown enough.

Dan Biggar (Northampton Saints and Wales; Test caps: 91; British and Irish Lions tours: 2017)

A man who continually seems to play his way back into the Wales and Lions pictures when written off, Biggar’s displays in recent weeks look to have earned him a squad place.

British and Irish Lions contenders for 2021 South Africa tour: Half-backs

Unable to pick up a Test cap on the 2017 tour, the 31-year-old will hope to trouble the likes of Farrell and Sexton more so this time around.

Under big pressure from Bristol’s Callum Sheedy nationally, Biggar’s kicking game, aerial work and bravery on the pitch are worthy of fulsome praise. Indeed the likes of Sam Warburton, Stuart Barnes, Northampton head coach Chris Boyd and others spoke of Biggar as the Lions Test 10 last week.

Finn Russell (Racing 92 and Scotland; Test caps: 51)

For much of the last two seasons, Racing 92’s mercurial Russell was tipped by many to be the Lions starting 10. That narrative seemed to change through and after the 2021 Six Nations, however.

British and Irish Lions contenders for 2021 South Africa tour: Half-backs

Having missed out on the 2017 Lions tour, Russell did earn a belated call as part of the infamous and controversial Geography Six, but had very little involvement at all. And there is talk now that he will miss out again, such is his unpredictable nature on the pitch.

Scotland’s downturn in performances in 2021 after picking up a first Twickenham victory since 1983, saw them slump to home losses vs Ireland and Wales, which would not have helped Russell’s cause. Stunningly brilliant on his day, but capable of costing a match too, will Russell be worth the risk in Gatland’s eyes?


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