Lions facing scrum-half dilemma
June 14, 2009
Riki Flutey (L) could back-up for Mike Blair (R) in Port Elizabeth © Getty Images
British & Irish Lions head coach Ian McGeechan is facing a selection dilemma at scrum-half for their final tour game against the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth on Tuesday.
Scotland skipper Mike Blair was ruled out of contention for Saturday's win over Western Province at Newlands after rolling his ankle in training and is being worked on around the clock by the Lions medical staff ahead of Tuesday. The management are loathe to ask Harry Ellis to back up after Saturday while likely Test scrum-half Mike Phillips is undergoing treatment on stiffness and bruising to his back.
The Lions will also be without Rob Kearney, who is suffering from a dead leg, meaning that the backline may have an unfamiliar feel at the new Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. Shane Williams, who started as replacement scrum-half at Newlands, and Riki Flutey, who began his career as a scrum-half, may be asked to fill the void.
"Rob Kearney took a knee straight into his left thigh that has given him a dead leg. It was the sensible thing to take him off," said Lions doctor Gary O'Driscoll. "He has a full range of movement in the thigh today, and the initial signs are he should be available for later in the week. Mike Blair has a very mild sprain. The coaching staff have given us until Tuesday morning to do a final fitness test, so there is every chance he will be available for then.
"Tuesday may become a bit of an issue for the selectors and by giving us the extra time to work on Mike's ankle shows they have some concerns. We've screened all three scrum-halves and subsequently had a meeeting with the coaches. From our point of view, there is not a single one of them (scrum-half) that we wouldn't be happy to say will be available for the weekend. With regard to the Test match, we would be very confident the scrum-halves would be fit and ready."
Welsh duo Martyn Williams and Jamie Roberts are also expected to be fit for this vital week of the tour. Williams' shoulder held up well against Western Province although he required five stitches in a cut on his knee, while Roberts has recovered from a stinger injury to his shoulder picked up against the Sharks.
No.8 Andy Powell meanwhile, has had a fracture in his hand confirmed by a scan but the injury will not affect the remainder of his tour.
"Andy Powell had an X-ray that showed nothing, and an MRI scan showed virtually nothing," said O'Driscoll. "A specific CT scan then found a tiny little crush fracture at the base of his second bone in his hand. It is a fracture that does not cause any significant problems. It is the sort of thing many players play on with - it isn't a risk or anything dangerous.
"We are amazed we have got this far on tour with so few major injury worries. The average number of players sent home from recent Lions tours has been six or seven and so far we've only lost Stephen Ferris and Leigh Halfpenny."
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