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Tuesday 21 November 2017

Injury toll rises but Irish Lions can roar

A relaxed looking Seán O’Brien during British & Irish Lions training at Carton House. Photo: Sportsfile
A relaxed looking Seán O’Brien during British & Irish Lions training at Carton House. Photo: Sportsfile

Giants of the game are dropping like Autumn leaves even before the British & Irish Lions leave for New Zealand.

Coach Warren Gatland has been hit with the thunderbolt that Billy Vunipola, the man he was aiming to build his forward game around, has been taken out of the series by a shoulder injury.

The England number eight joins Ben Youngs (Greig Laidlaw has been summoned as the third scrum-half) as the second man who won't make the plane.

 

SIGNIFICANT

British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland assesses his players at Carton House. Photo: Sportsfile
British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland assesses his players at Carton House. Photo: Sportsfile

It is just as well Conor Murray has made a significant and effective return to action for his province.

"We always knew he was a world-class player," said Lions coach Warren Gatland out in Carton House yesterday.

"It was a concern for us, particularly having something that is hard to project what the recovery time-frame is going to be.

"From where he was four years ago, he probably started the tour at number three and probably ended it number one.

"His progression the last four years has been excellent.

"He is a key component for Munster and for Irish and he is important for us too."

It was also revealed how Ireland out-half Jonathan Sexton underwent a Head Injury Assessment after Leinster's loss to the Scarlets in the PRO12 semi-final.

"He had no symptoms on the HIA. There was no concussion from that," stated Gatland.

"We're expecting him to take a good part in training tomorrow and then later in the week."

There is a serious doubt about Wales hooker Ken Owens, already deemed unlikely to make the PRO12 final for the Scarlets this weekend.

There is also the Premiership decider as well on Saturday, although Wasps Elliot Daly and James Haskell are the only two involved at Twickenham.

Heck, it isn't just the Lions that are suffering as the All Blacks captain Kieran Read continues to rehabilitate a fracture to the base of his right thumb.

The estimation for Read's recovery was initially put at six weeks from the time the damage was done when playing Super Rugby at the end of April.

 

SCHEDULED

The New Zealand captain is scheduled to return to the game just two weeks before the first Test.

Fierce flanker Jerome Kaino is due to be back one week ahead of the first Test.

Liam Squire makes it three loose forwards on the casualty list, breaking his thumb.

The Highlander was viewed as the next in line should either Read or Kaino fail to beat the count.

Full-back Ben Smith, back-three veteran Israel Dagg and wing wizard Nehe Milner-Skudder are all doubts for the first Test.

Perhaps, the most serious fracture to coach Steve Hansen's plans comes from the cloud hanging over his hooker Dane Coles, far and away his best option in the position.

This is why it came as great news to hear coach Warren Gatland calm fears about Ireland prop Jack McGrath and flanker Seán O'Brien.

As reported in The Herald yesterday, McGrath's scan to his arm came back clear for a fracture.

"He's fine. He had an X-ray and it's clear, just some bruising," said Gatland.

The frustration over Sean O'Brien is that the flanker aggravated a calf just after getting over a hamstring strain.

"I think Seán is probably more concerned than we are," added the coach.

"He is frustrated because he felt he probably overloaded himself last week with the amount of training he did in preparing for the game, considering he hadn't had a lot of rugby.

"He probably needed to take a little more time easing into it," issued Gatland.

"We're making sure we take time in easing him into it properly. Having chatted to him, he feels confident he's going to be 100pc."

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