Owen Farrell will play for the British and Irish Lions just six days after turning out in English rugby’s second division.
Any doubt as to the England captain’s importance to Warren Gatland was dispelled when the Lions head coach threw him straight into the matchday squad to face Japan at Murrayfield on Saturday.
Gatland then revealed that Farrell had come out on top in a vote amongst the whole squad for who they wanted in their leadership group.
“I asked the players all to vote and pick four for the group,” the New Zealander said. “It was interesting that Owen ended up with the most votes of anyone.
“It speaks volumes for the respect in which he’s held by the other players in the group – not just the England players.”
So much for the question marks hanging over Farrell and his Saracens team mates in the England squad after a Six Nations in which they underperformed.
No sooner had the playmaker pitched up at the Lions training camp in Jersey than he was given a shirt and told he would play off the bench in the Edinburgh opener.
“The chat was that it wasn’t the greatest Six Nations (from him),” said Gatland. “A lot was made of the Sarries boys looking under-done, which is probably a fair enough criticism.
“But we picked Owen on the leadership he has and experience he can bring. He’s a competitor, and what he’s achieved in the game, the success he has had, speaks for itself.
“Knowing him as a competitor, he’ll go out and make the most of his opportunities. I expect him to have a great tour.”
Farrell played almost an hour of Saracens’ promotion-clinching win over Ealing on Sunday – delaying by a week his arrival on the Channel Island.
But 24 hours later he was in the Lions’ den with clubmates Maro Itoje, Jamie George, Elliot Daly and Mako Vunipola.
“From what I saw from them they fitted in extremely well,” said Gatland. “The thing with them is they’ve got the experience. They’re all Lions players from the last tour, so it was pretty seamless.”
Gatland has opted to start with a team entirely comprising Celtic Lions, not least because the match is being played in Scotland.
Tour skipper Alun Wyn Jones leads the side, with experienced half-back duo Dan Biggar and Conor Murray calling the shots.
One potential blow for the head coach is that he will not be able to call upon Manu Tuilagi in the event of injuries. The England centre is crocked again.
Bizarrely, the Lions have yet to decide whether to award cap status to the Japan game – despite the precedent having been set when Argentina came to Cardiff in 2005. A decision will not be made until much later this year.
British and Irish Lions: Williams; Adams, Henshaw, Aki, Van der Merwe; Biggar, Murray; Sutherland, Owens, Fagerson, Henderson, AW Jones (c), Beirne, H Watson, Conan
Replacements: George, W Jones, Furlong, Lawes, Faletau, Price, Farrell, A Watson.