Well, the Lions came through their toughest game of the tour so far, beating Queensland Reds, 22-12. Unfortunately, the win will be overshadowed by the news that 3 of their top players have had their tours curtailed by injury.
Cian Healy, Gethin Jenkins and Tommy Bowe have suffered serious injuries, with Healy and Jenkins being ruled out of the tour and Bowe out for a minimum of 2 weeks.
Healy suffered an ankle injury in the match against Western Force, a game in which he was also cited for foul play. He was cleared of the charges, but scans on his ankle revealed serious damage and he won’t recover in time to play another match on tour.
Gethin Jenkins had suffered a calf strain before the tour started and it was hoped that the injury would heal in time for him to play a part in the tour. Unfortunately he won’t be fully recovered in time.
This is a pretty serious blow to the Lions, as both Healy and Jenkins were vying for a test place at tight-head prop. The players will be replaced by Alex Corisbiero and Ryan Grant, respectively.
Tommy Bowe’s tour also looked to be over after he suffered an injury to his hand but as it’s now believed that he could recover in the next 2 weeks or so, the management have decided to keep him in Australia. Simon Zebo has been called out as cover.
It’s great news for Zebo, who many feel was unlucky to miss out on the original selection, but unfortunate for Bowe who was looking like a favourite for a test place. It’s hoped that he’ll have recovered in time to play in the 2nd or 3rd tests (or both).
There’s still no word on when Rob Kearney will be able to play (he’s suffering from a torn hamstring), hopefully he’ll be available to line out against the New South Wales Waratahs next Saturday.
LIONS V QUEENSLAND REDS
It was a very tough game for the Lions, with Queensland really mounting a challenge. Quade Cooper caused all sorts of problems and the Reds scored 2 great tries, including a terrific score by wing Luke Morahan (1 of the best tries I’ve seen).
Ben Youngs scored the Lions only try, which Owen Farrell converted. Farrell also kicked 5 penalties. The score could have been higher for the Lions but both Sam Warburton and Farrell were denied tries.
There were some great performances by the Lions, with George North making some great runs after coming on as a replacement for Tuilagi. Tommy Bowe caused some real problems for the Reds, in both defence and attack.
Alex Cuthbert ran powerfully, though his pace and defence were suspect. Owen Farrell played a great game, while Ben Youngs did well in his first start of the tour, while his brother Tom was the most impressive of the hookers so far.
Sam Warburton did okay in his first game of the tour, though his defence wasn’t great and his pace was off. He has just returned from injury, though. The rest of the pack did well and it was their dominance in the set pieces which won the Lions the game in the end.
So the Lions got through their first big challenge of the tour, though they’ll need to be much better come the tests. I don’t know what is says, though, that a provincial side without most of its stars almost beat a team made up of some of the best players in Europe.
LIONS V NSW/QUEENSLAND COUNTRY XV
The Lions have picked an interesting team for their next game of the tour, against a combined New South Wales/Queensland XV, on Tuesday at 10.30. The NSW/Queensland team is an invitational side.
15 Sean Maitland, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Brian O’Driscoll (c), 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Stuart Hogg, 9 Conor Murray,
8 Jami Heaslip, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Sean O’Brien, 5 Ian Evans, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Alex Corbisiero.
Replacements: 16 Rory Best, 17 Ryan Grant, 18 Matt Stevens, 19 Alun Wyn Jones, 20 Toby Faletau, 21 Mike Phillips, 22 Jonathan Davies, 23 Leigh Halfpenny.
Brian O’Driscoll captains the side, where he’s reunited with his centre partner from the 2009 tour, Jaimie Roberts. The 2 were a terrific combination on that tour and they’re the favourites to start in the tests this time around.
Sean Maitland is at full back, though he was initially selected as a wing. Likewise, Stuart Hogg comes in at out-half. This is to give Owen Farrell and Jonny Sexton a break as they’ve both played in all the matches so far.
Alex Corbisiero plays in his first game after coming out as cover for the injured Gethin Jenkins. Cian Healy’s replacement, Ryan Grant, is on the bench. There is a very strong pack, with Heaslip and O’Brien, especially, in the running for the tests.
It’s a pretty strong team overall, though there’s no recognised out-half in the 23. It will be interesting to see how the different combinations work out while several players will be looking to improve their chances of playing in the tests.
The NSW/Queensland team will be an invitational side, with players being selected from all over the area. I don’t know how strong the team will be but they won’t have much experience playing together.
The match takes place on June 11th. Almost exactly 12 years to the day, on 12th June 2001, the 2001 Lions played a Queensland invitational side, the Queensland President’s XV
The Lions were only leading in the first half of that game, by 10-6, but they managed to score 73 unanswered points in the 2nd half to win the match 83-6. I don’t think that this year’s Lions will match that feat but you never know.