Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Lions Need to Tread Carefully on Road to Brisbane

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Lions Need to Tread Carefully on Road to Brisbane

Article excerpt

Byline: Chris Jones

THE sight of replacement wing Simon Zebo walking around with an ice bag on his thigh having just announced that he was fit to make his Lions debut tomorrow does not bode well for a squad beset by injury.

Zebo, who replaced Irish team-mate Tommy Bowe (broken hand), insists the ice treatment is precautionary but he joins George North, Richie Gray, Brian O'Driscoll, Manu Tuilagi and Alex Cuthbert on an ever-lengthening injury list.

With the New South Wales Waratahs promising to give Warren Gatland's tourists a very physical workout tomorrow, there is a real danger of the preparations for the opening Test in Brisbane a week tomorrow being shaped by a medical bulletin from James Robson, the team doctor.

The Waratahs match is unlikely to feature the kind of spiteful punching incident seen in 2001, when Duncan McRae was sent off after hitting Lions fly-half Ronan O'Gara 11 times. However, the decision by Wallaby coach Robbie Deans to release Waratahs captain David Dennis and centre Rob Horne to play tomorrow along with half-backs Matt Lucas and Bernard Foley, both of whom were with the Australian Sevens, makes this a fixture worthy of the Lions.

On a longer tour, the Lions would have reached the last Saturday before the Tests ready to unleash their expected first-choice XV but with so few games and the disruption caused by injuries, Gatland and his coaches will not pick the team to face Australia until after Tuesday's match with the Brumbies.

The Lions have no option but to make the best of a very unsatisfactory situation, which makes a resounding win imperative for a team led by tour captain Sam Warburton and featuring key men such as Mike Phillips, Jamie Roberts, Leigh Halfpenny, Adam Jones and Paul O'Connell.

To that list of certain Test starters can be added England prop Mako Vunipola, who came on tour as the nine-cap rookie member of a loosehead group completed by Gethin Jenkins, of Wales, and Ireland's Cian Healy. Injuries to Jenkins and Healy have left Vunipola as the only remaining member of the club still in Australia, with replacements Alex Corbisiero (England) and Ryan Grant (Scotland) playing catch-up in that battle for the Test start. …

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