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Lions close ranks on Farrell injury

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 16/06/2017 Angelo Risso

The British and Irish Lions have dead-batted suggestions playmaker Owen Farrell may not be fit for next week's first Test against the All Blacks.

The 25-year-old Farrell - England's first choice No.10 - suffered a minor thigh strain in training on Thursday, ruling him out of Saturday's Maori All Blacks clash.

He has been replaced in the matchday squad by Welshman Dan Biggar.

Farrell's injury is a grade-one strain, putting him out of action for up to 10 days - well beyond the Lions' first Test at Eden Park next Saturday.

He's considered a prime candidate for the Test selection's No.10 shirt in that match, given Irishman Johnny Sexton's sluggish form on Kiwi soil to date.

However, Lions assistant coach Steve Borthwick wouldn't have a bar of questions on Farrell's fitness on Friday, and declined to give a precise injury timeframe.

He wouldn't entertain the thought of losing him.

"You can deal with the hypotheticals - I'll deal with what the facts are, and the facts are that we've got a game we want to concentrate on," Borthwick told reporters.

"The medical team are taking great care of him and he's in the rehabilitation program, so hopefully he'll be back - he'll get top-class care from them.

"He's an incredible professional."

A day earlier, Gatland backed Sexton - who struggled in the Lions' tour-opening win against the provincial Barbarians - to come right in Rotorua, having showed glimpses of his quality from the bench against the Crusaders last Saturday.

He said the Leinster-based playmaker just needed more minutes under his belt - all the more important, given Farrell's subsequent injury diagnosis.

"Johnny himself knows that his last two games before (the Crusaders) probably weren't his best games of rugby - for Leinster in that (Pro12) semi-final and in that first game against the Barbarians," Gatland said.

"He was down a little bit on confidence and he's got a little of his mojo back at the moment, so we wanted to give him a start."

Maori All Blacks boss Colin Cooper, meanwhile, said Farrell's absence was a boost for his side but backed Sexton and Biggar to be equally as dangerous.

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