DUNEDIN, New Zealand — Self-appraising honesty in modern day sport is a rarity. So credit to Dan Biggar for his own, candid assessment of where he feels he is in the fly-half pecking order for the British & Irish Lions. As he weighed up how he, Owen Farrell and Johnny Sexton are placed ahead of the first Test, he admitted: “It’s not nice to be probably the third choice at the moment”.
Biggar is a fighter, a quality Warren Gatland admires and memories of the 2015 Rugby World Cup and his assured performances are reminder enough of his skill at fly-half but he does face a stern test to secure the No.10 shirt.
“Johnny and Owen deserve to be just a fraction ahead at the moment,” Biggar said. “That is me being brutally honest. But my nature is to not want that to happen, my nature is to close that gap and put some pressure on the two on them.
“That’s the chance I have on Tuesday night, but that’s not my mindset — it’s not going to be ‘I’ve got to do this, this and this to put pressure on Johnny and Owen’. It’s going to be about what I can do for the team and hopefully that comes off.”
Biggar starts for the Lions against the Highlanders on Tuesday night having recovered from the head knock he suffered against the Blues last week. He was reluctant to come off; in his own words he quite “forcibly” stated his wishes to continue, but it was a case of “better safe than sorry”.
Having completed the return-to-play protocols, he gets his chance to shine against the Highlanders but he was a face in the stands at Christchurch on Saturday watching Farrell and Sexton excel against the Crusaders. Opportunities are decreasing to force Gatland’s hand.
The coach says Test selection is wide open, but did admit on Sunday that a number of players had put their hands up for a shot against the All Blacks in that win over the Crusaders. Farrell would have been one of them with an assured showing.
Biggar is enjoying the competition with Farrell and Sexton, and the trio exchange notes on all things fly-half as they discuss game plans and the coming days on tour. But Biggar is keen to stand on his own.
There have been some fine Welsh fly-halves who have faced the All Blacks in a Lions jersey, but he is keen to dodge any notion of sport’s peer vacuum, though did joke he would have rather been born a Welsh second-row.
“You have absolute greats like Phil Bennett, Neil Jenkins and Stephen Jones, all those people – but for me it’s about being Dan Biggar rather than trying to think what others have achieved. I want to put my own stamp on the jersey.
“That doesn’t really get me going, wanting to try and emulate players from the past however great they’ve been, it’s me trying to take little bits and pieces from what they’ve done and put my own stamp on the jersey.
“I’m trying to enjoy myself out here. It is a once or twice in a lifetime opportunity for some guys and it’s important to enjoy it rather than putting pressure on yourself so that’s the approach I’ve gone with.”
On Tuesday he comes up against All Black Lima Sopoaga who has been given a chance to improve his match-fitness against the Lions after being named in the New Zealand squad last Thursday. Biggar admires his physicality, ball-carrying ability and kicking game.
But Tuesday under the roof at the Forsyth-Barr Stadium is Biggar’s chance to shine, a reminder that it is a three-way race for No.10.
“There’s a big opportunity for everyone selected to stake a claim and the boys who played on Saturday night did a great job in terms of getting us back on track. That’s the aim for everyone on Tuesday is to put a bit more pressure on the coaches and it’s a lot easier to put pressure on them if you come out a winning team, rather than not. We’re having plenty of walkthroughs and making sure we’re ready.
“It’s not nice to be probably the third choice at the moment, for whatever you think, but my personality isn’t happy with that and it’s my job to try and force the order a little.”