Captaincy blow for B&I Lions
Injured captain Sam Warburton has been ruled out of the deciding third Test against Australia in a major setback for the B&I Lions.
Injured captain Sam Warburton has been ruled out of the deciding third Test against Australia in a major setback for the British and Irish Lions.
The Lions on Monday said Warburton had a "significant tear" in his left hamstring, sustained late in the 15-16 loss to the Wallabies in Melbourne at the weekend.
Warburton was inspirational at the breakdown in the second test, securing repeated turnovers for the Lions before he was helped off the field in the 67th minute when his team was leading Australia by six points.
The captaincy for the third Test is likely to fall to veteran Irish centre Brian O'Driscoll, who played in his first Lions tour in 2001 when Australia won the second and third Tests to clinch the series.
Irish back row forward Sean O'Brien and Welshman Justin Tipuric are the likely contenders to replace Warburton on the openside flank.
Warburton will remain with the Lions, who are in Noosa Heads for four days of training before returning to Sydney to finalize their buildup for the third Test and push for their first series win since 1997.
"It is incredibly disappointing to be ruled out of the tour through injury as we head to Sydney for the deciding match," the 24-year-old Warburton said in a statement.
"I am confident that the boys can finish the job off and secure the series win."
Warburton was rested for the Lions tour-opening match against the Barbarians in Hong Kong to let a minor ailment heal but returning to confirm his place in the back row for the start of the three-Test series against the Australians.
He played an important role in the 23-21 win in the first Test in Brisbane and was easily the best of the Lions forwards in the one-point loss in Melbourne, which allowed Australia to level the series.
After the second Test, he remained in Melbourne under the supervision of Lions team doctor Eanna Falvey to undergo a full medical assessment, and had the scan which confirmed the damage.
Warburton led Wales to the World Cup semifinals in 2011 and has been part of back-to-back Six Nations titles.
Before learning of the extent of Warburton's injury, O'Driscoll said he felt the Lions would lift for the deciding match, regardless of who is in charge on the field.
"It's huge. The momentum from this game is with them but we won't let that phase us, we'll dig deep," the 34-year-old O'Driscoll said. "We were able to beat them once and there's no reason why we shouldn't be able to do it again if we can get our game right."
The Lions will be without both Warburton and Ireland second rower Paul O'Connell, the 2009 Lions captain who broke his arm in the first Test win in Brisbane.
Wallabies centre Adam Ashley-Cooper, speaking earlier Monday, predicted Warburton's absence would be a "huge loss" for the Lions but described possible replacement O'Brien as a "class act".
"They have a lot of depth in the back row," Ashley-Cooper said. "They're certainly not lacking in good No.7s."
Lions assistant coach Andy Farrell said most of the squad would have Monday and Tuesday off training, the exception being centre Jamie Roberts and prop Alex Corbisiero, who were due to undergo fitness sessions to determine their availability for the match on Saturday.
Roberts is recovering from a hamstring injury he sustained in a tour match against New South Wales on June 15, while Corbisiero, a late tour injury replacement himself, has a calf ailment. Both are expected to come into Test consideration if fit. Roberts' strong, direct running in the midfield could help the Lions in phase and broken play, and Corbisiero is an expert scrummager and should shore up some of the problems the pack had in the set piece against the Australians in Melbourne.
Hooker Tom Youngs, who had back spasms during Saturday's match, said he was fit and ready to play in the third Test if chosen when the Lions name their team on Wednesday.
Corbisiero was called up as a replacement loosehead prop and distinguished himself in the front row on his Lions Test debut in the Brisbane victory before a calf injury that ruled him out of the second Test.
Roberts injured his hamstring in the big win over the New South Wales Waratahs in Sydney two weeks ago and has not played since.
But both men are fighting to be fit for consideration when the Lions team is named on Wednesday.
"There are a few boys training on Monday and the rest of the squad have a couple of days off and we'll train Wednesday and Thursday," Farrell said late Sunday.
"Alex Corbisiero and Jamie Roberts will go hard on Monday and, hopefully, will be right for full training on Wednesday."
The Australians also could be without their captain if James Horwill is banned after a hearing on Monday night. Horwill was originally cleared of a stomping charge arising from the first Test, but the International Rugby Board took the rare decision last week to appeal the finding of its appointed judicial officer.
Horwill played a significant role in Australia's series-leveling win in Melbourne and said he was confident of being cleared again in the IRB's appeal, saying the stomping of Alun Wyn Jones in the third minute of the first Test was purely accidental and he didn't even know he'd made contact with the Lions lock's head until he was cited in the wake of the game.
Farrell said he doesn't believe the Wallabies' one-point victory will give them the edge going into the decider.
"There is still a little bit of emotion there with the enormity of the game and what was at stake. But the reality is it's 1-1, there are two good teams going hammer and tongs and we're both still in the race," said Farrell.
"I'm proud of the way we stuck at it, especially in defence when we were under pressure in those last 20 minutes.
"We were lucky in the first game to get away with a win and, in the second game, we could have won. I suppose you could say after those two games 1-1 is a fair way to look at it. Now it's all on for the last one."
AP & AFP