Wounded Lions look to Farrell against Crusaders

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Saracens fly-half Owen Farrell (AFP Photo/ANDY BUCHANAN)
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Christchurch (New Zealand) (AFP) - Fly-half Owen Farrell knows he must recreate his sparkling form for England to get the faltering British and Irish Lions back to winning ways against the Canterbury Crusaders in Christchurch.

The young playmaker has helped Saracens to European Champions Cup glory and guided England to the Six Nations title in each of the last two years.

But he faces one of his biggest challenges on Saturday, his first start of the Lions' New Zealand tour against an Crusaders side studded with All Blacks and unbeaten this year in Super Rugby.

The 25-year-old is under pressure to turn around the Lions' fortunes after a shock 22-16 loss to the Auckland Blues on Wednesday.

If he can do so, Farrell would cement his position as one of the Lions' key men for the three-Test series against the World Champion All Blacks.

Despite this week's loss, Farrell said the Lions were improving but admitted the tourists needed to chalk up some wins before the first Test on June 24.

"To concede (a late try) the way we did having fought back twice was disappointing," he said.

"I don't think we would want to go into the Test series having lost five games. Apart from the result, the Blues game was a step in the right direction."

Farrell, rated "one of the top players in northern hemisphere rugby" by Lions coach Warren Gatland, begins the game alongside Conor Murray at half-back, with Ben Te'o and Jonathan Davies the centre pairing.

Giant Wales wing George North also makes his first appearance in a back line that looks very much like Gatland's first-choice Test selection.

A second consecutive defeat would hit the Lions hard and they face a tough challenge against a Crusaders side who top the Super Rugby ladder with a perfect record of 14 wins.

Farrell appreciated the difficulty of the task at Christchurch's AMI Stadium.

"It only takes one moment for Crusaders to create something and show how clinical they are," he said.

"We have to make sure we stay in games for 80 minutes. They are a quality side, they've got strengths all over, you only need to look at the team they've announced to see that."

Crusaders are fully loaded to take on the Lions, with All Blacks Joe Moody, Codie Taylor, Owen Franks, Luke Romano and captain Sam Whitelock making up the tight five.

Gatland's side are without injured skipper Sam Warburton, who has a slight ankle strain, as well as Wales duo Ross Moriarty (back) and Dan Biggar (head).

Farrell said: "We're pouring all our efforts into the team. There are plenty of good players in this squad and to see how they go about everything they do is a brilliant way of learning for everybody."