New Zealand rugby stars select Russell over Sexton for Lions 10
"They'll be all business... they'll put in a pretty big shift."
While anticipation for the British & Irish Lions Tour to South Africa is growing, with a squad announcement due on May 6, the world champions are practically feverish.
It has been 18 months since the Springboks won the Word Cup and, due to the Covid-19 pandemic and travel restrictions, they have not played a Test match since. They will have a warm-up game against the USA, in July, but Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber will have their hands full trying to get their big players up to Test match intensity.
Ahead of that Lions squad announcement, the Aotearoa Rugby Pod asked a couple of Kiwi rugby players to select their Lions Test starters, and there were some interesting results. Of the eight players put forward for a Test XV, five were Welsh, with two from England and a solo Scot.
The topic also rose on the latest House of Rugby Ireland episode [LISTEN from 8:40 below], as former Ireland and Lions fullback Rob Kearney gave his thoughts on the upcoming tour, and shared his picks for a Lions Test XV backline.
When it came to the first major Lions XV selection, the Aotearoa guys did not go down the same path as Kearney. While he believes Warren Gatland will select either Johnny Sexton or Owen Farrell at outhalf, the Kiwis are going for a bit more panaché.
"Oh, it has to to Finn Russell," said Blues and New Zealand hooker James Parsons, "and with Owen Farrell at 12... Finn Russell is just one of those players that can do special things. He's a creator and, with Farrell outside him as a settler, I think it's a really neat combination to see."
Parsons says the Plan B for the Lions could be to have England outhalf George Ford in the squad, just in case, with Farrell able to cover 10. Dan Biggar got a mention from Parsons, too, but not Johnny Sexton.
Parsons also raised the possibility of Exeter's Sam Simmonds achieving 'a pretty big feat' by making the Lions squad, as a No.8, while he can't get a look-in with Eddie Jones' England.
"The thing about Gatland," noted Crusaders star Bryn Hall, "is that he's pretty loyal with what he wants and the players that are proven. I'm glad you brought up Finn Russell as he's the form 10 for that Lions side... he's more of a runner, and more elusive than Johnny Sexton."
AOTEAROA RUGBY POD'S LIONS PICKS
CAPTAIN: Aln Wyn Jones (Wales)
LOCKS: Jones (Wales) & Maro Itoje (England)
HOOKER: Ken Owens (Wales)
OUTHALF: Finn Russell (Scotland)
CENTRES: Owen Farrell (England) & George North (Wales)
WINGERS: Josh Adams & Louis Rees-Zammit (both Wales)
No mention of Tadhg Beirne, Iain Henderson or Robbie Henshaw - Ireland's three best players from the Six Nations - and we are assuming Tadhg Furlong was not even discussed as he is a lock for that No.3 jersey.
The Scots will be pleased Russell is getting some love, down in the Land of the Long White Cloud, but asking where the Hamish Watson chatter was.