B&I Lions get direction from North
Wed, 19 Jun 2013 09:58
I've never seen him in better shape
Powerful wing George North is fit to face the Wallabies in the opening Test on Saturday and help the British and Irish Lions forget their first non-Test defeat in Australia in 42 years.
Assistant coach Rob Howley on Wednesday said his fellow Welshman had fully recovered from a hamstring strain.
The flying wing passed a fitness test Wednesday morning following the 12-14 loss to the Brumbies in Canberra on Tuesday.
"I've never seen him in better shape and he's available for selection which is a huge fillip for us," Howley said.
"It's a huge morale boost to have someone like George North available for us."
North, who weighs 110kg (242lb) and stands 1.92m (6ft 4in), is rated one of the best finishers in the world.
The Northampton-bound wing is expected to line up against code-hopping Wallabies debutant Israel Folau at Brisbane's sold-out Suncorp Stadium.
However, Welsh compatriot and fellow back Jamie Roberts remains a serious doubt for Saturday.
Centre Roberts, who also pulled a hamstring, against the Waratahs last weekend, is set to sit out the series-opener as is wing Tommy Bowe.
The Ulsterman is recovering from a broken hand sustained in the win over the Reds.
The pair may still return for the second Test in Melbourne on June 29.
The final clash is in Sydney on July 6.
Howley rated England's bulldozing centre Manu Tuilagi as "touch and go" for Saturday with his shoulder injury steadily improving.
His absence would leave a likely midfield pairing of Welshman Jonathan Davies alongside Irish veteran Brian O'Driscoll at outside centre.
The Lions, fielding six recent injury reinforcements, were battered at the breakdown by the Australian Super Rugby conference leaders in Canberra.
It was the Lions' first tour loss to a provincial side since going down 30-35 to Northern Transvaal in South Africa in 1997 and the first win by an Australian provincial team against them since Queensland beat the tourists 15-11 in 1971.
Lions coach Warren Gatland said he hoped the loss would prove "a reality check" after five consecutive wins in Hong Kong and Australia.
Gatland and rival coach Robbie Deans were due to announce their teams on Thursday.
The Australians had their own good news on Tuesday with wing Digby Ioane declaring himself ready to return to the fray just four weeks after knee surgery.
Australian media reported that Deans has already settled on his side, which will have two other new caps with the Brumbies' Christian Lealiifano at outside centre and wildcard Ben Mowen in the back row.
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