Te'o gives Gatland a Farrell-Sexton conundrum but Faletau could fill the Vunipola void

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Warren Gatland has had a chance to look at all 41 members of his British and Irish Lions squad with three matches of the tour of New Zealand completed.

An unconvincing 13-7 win over the Provincial Barbarians to start the trip was followed by a damaging 22-16 defeat to the Blues in midweek, which provided more questions than answers as Gatland seeks his best XV for the first Test against the All Blacks on June 24.

But the Kiwi was left encouraged by Saturday's battling 12-3 win over the Crusaders, who many had tipped to topple the Lions after winning all 14 of their Super Rugby encounters this season.

A staunch defensive effort and the boot of Owen Farrell proved pivotal as the Lions ground out victory in Christchurch, with their set-piece play particularly impressive.

But ahead of the opening Test in Auckland in two weeks, whose chances of a starting berth are improving and who is falling out of contention?

 

KNOCKING ON THE DOOR

Ben Te'o

The Worcester Warriors man, on his first Lions tour, has impressed to the extent that he is giving Gatland a serious headache at centre. In his two matches to date he has beaten 10 defenders and made 124 metres. A fine break in the second half against the Crusaders on Saturday was spoiled by a poor pass to Liam Williams on the wing, but Te'o's otherwise excellent showing was further evidence of his international pedigree. Should he continue to sparkle, Gatland could be forced to jettison one of either Farrell or Jonathan Sexton from the midfield.

Taulupe Faletau

Billy Vunipola's withdrawal from the squad due to a shoulder injury was billed as a serious blow to the Lions chances before they had even got on the plane. But the performances of Faletau at number eight suggest the Vunipola void may not be so difficult to fill. The Wales back-row has been excellent in defence, making 24 tackles in his two appearances on the tour, while his 22 carries for 99 metres gained - including three clean breaks and two offloads - mean Vunipola's raging-bull style of offensive work has been barely missed. 

Kyle Sinckler

A somewhat surprise inclusion in the party, the Harlequins prop has become a good bet for a starting place in the front row at Eden Park in a fortnight. Having only made his international debut for England against South Africa in November, Sinckler's rise has been remarkable and it could be capped on the grandest stage against the toughest opposition. He started against the Provincial Barbarians before coming off the bench to replace compatriot Dan Cole versus the Blues and his performances will surely have caught the attention of his coach.

 

DROPPING DOWN THE QUEUE

Stuart Hogg

The Scotland full-back has developed a reputation as one of the most scintillating attacking players in world rugby, but has suffered a less than auspicious start to this tour. A couple of errant passes tarnished his game against the Provincial Barbarians, before he sat out against the Blues. Unfortunately for Hogg, his return against the Crusaders lasted under 20 minutes as he was caught by an accidental elbow from team-mate Conor Murray as he chased his own kick. With the claret pouring freely, Hogg failed a subsequent head injury assessment and did not return, his replacement Anthony Watson embarking on a couple of penetrating runs in his absence.

Liam Williams

Having sat out the tour opener, Wales utility back Williams was introduced off the bench early in the second half of the loss to the Blues. But shortly afterwards he was sin-binned for twice taking out an opponent in the air in quick succession - not the impact he or the Lions were looking for. Handed a starting spot against the Crusaders, Williams was a peripheral figure as set-pieces and goal kicking won the day, his only real chance for a try denied by Te'o's poor service to him on the left wing.

Jonathan Sexton

The Ireland man's place on this list is more due to Te'o's performances than his own. Talk before the tour was that Farrell and Sexton would both start, with one taking up the 12 shirt, but Te'o has thrown a spanner in the works. Farrell's goal kicking was supreme against the Crusaders on Saturday, the Saracens star successful with four while another was missed by the smallest of margins, and he appears favourite to start at 10. Sexton came on as a replacement for Jonathan Davies in Christchurch and impressed following his introduction, his link-up with Farrell particularly encouraging, but his place in the XV is by no means assured.