North fitness boost for Lions
British and Irish Lions wing George North has been passed fit to face Australia in Saturday's opening Test at Suncorp Stadium.
North limped off with a hamstring injury at half-time during last Tuesday's rout of Combined Country XV and has been battling to recover in time for the series opener against the Wallabies.
But assistant coach Rob Howley revealed the tackle-busting 21-year-old, who is viewed as a key weapon against the Wallabies, has been given the all-clear with the team due to be announced on Thursday. "George was up bright and early. He came through a fitness test and I've never seen him in better shape," Howley said.
"He's available for selection at the weekend and that's a huge fillip for us. We've looked after him for the last week and it's a huge morale boost to have someone like George North fit for us. Over the last 12 months I haven't seen him in better shape and that's why we took the decision to get him 100 per cent physically well."
Jamie Roberts and Tommy Bowe are almost certain to miss the first Test as they continue their rehabilitation from hamstring and hand problems respectively, but Manu Tuilagi could yet feature following a positive update on his shoulder injury.
"Jamie is progressing. He ran today but is unlikely to be fit for the weekend, as is Tommy Bowe. More than likely Tommy will be available for the second Test," Howley said. "Manu is improving every day after taking a stinger. The strength is coming back into his shoulder and obviously he'll be touch and go."
North's availability has served as a timely lift to the Lions after they slumped to their first defeat of the tour in a 14-12 loss to the Brumbies in Canberra. It was comfortably their worst performance Down Under and Howley insists the Lions' resilience will be determined by how they react to the setback.
"We had a meeting about the game and the nature of a Lions tour is that you must move on. We're bitterly disappointed and will take the hit," he said. "On a Lions tour you talk about the importance of momentum and in the last four or five matches we've had momentum. Now it's about how we react to that game.
"It's important this team and squad come together and I'm sure that everyone will be behind the 23 selected for Saturday. Absolutely something like this can make you stronger. It gave us a reality check, in particular at the breakdown. Physicality and intensity have been key ingredients of our performance, but for whatever reason that was missing.
"When you lose you can get a galvanising effect on the squad and that's been very apparent in the last 12 hours in particular. We were disappointed by the performance because there were opportunities for players to put their hands up and some of them didn't. We spoke about the badge on the jersey getting bigger and against the Brumbies it was dented a bit, and I'm sure we'll see a reaction."