Owen earns plaudits ahead of flying return

British & Irish Lion Michael Owen will make a flying visit back to Wales to attend the birth of his second child very much in the frame for the Test team after an impressive display against Taranaki. [more]

Lions Australia Tour 2013

British & Irish Lion Michael Owen will make a flying visit back to Wales to attend the birth of his second child very much in the frame for the Test team after an impressive display against Taranaki.

The number eight departs New Zealand straight after Saturday’s game against the Maori and returns next Thursday, nine days before the first Test against the All Blacks on June 25.

Owen will miss next week’s clash with Wellington but his performance in the win over Taranaki was enough to convince coach Ian McGeechan he has genuine claims to the Test number eight jersey.

"He has got parts of his play which are exceptional and different," said McGeechan.

"We saw a very intelligent footballer. In pressure situations, when you have got somebody who thinks like a footballer and has hands like a footballer and delivers at crucial times, then he is a major asset."

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Owen’s wife Lucy is heavily pregnant and will give birth by Caesarean on Monday. He lands that morning and flies back out to Auckland on Tuesday having remained on New Zealand time on his brief visit home.

"I am going back on Sunday after the Maori game so I am available to play in that. I miss one game on the Wednesday and will be back Thursday," said Owen, who will start on the bench on Saturday.

"I should be available for the game the following Saturday (against Otago). The coaches have not given any indication it will affect my Test chances."

Owen was roundly praised for his performance in the Lions’ 36-14 win in New Plymouth.

He was an effective force in the loose, around the fringes and with the ball in hand.

He sent Geordan Murphy over for the Lions’ fourth try with a bullet pass that Charlie Hodgson would have been proud of.

Gareth Jenkins, the Lions forwards coach, added: "What we see with Michael is not only the physical aspect of his game, but he is a touch player as well.

"He has this X-factor, this vision, and there were a couple of significant touches that created one opportunity and one try that he has got to be commended for."

Owen played at number eight with Martin Corry at blindside flanker and the Lions captain was delighted with their back-row partnership.

"I thought Mike had a tremendous game. We had to work hard. We are not the ones to talk about combinations, we just go out there and play according to how we trained all week," said Corry.

"A lot has been said about six and eight. But the way it is, at first phase there are differences but as soon as the game opens up a bit I don’t think there is much between the positions."

The breakdown and tackle area in New Zealand is one facet of the Lions play that McGeechan is particularly keen for his players to master.

"It is a very competitive area. We have to come to terms with that. The players have to experience playing in this environment," said McGeechan.

"They are learning on the field, which is good. We spoke about it at half-time and they responded well.

"We had 25 minutes when the ball was going exactly where we wanted it to go, but for 50 minutes it was a tough battle to get that control.

"They play 18 inches lower at the breakdown, which means there are players off their feet, simply because of the physics of it.

"So if you don’t win your ball immediately you have to work very hard for it because that impact round the tackle area is challenged, and that is something you have to get used to."

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