Lions wait as hand injury may scupper rest of tour for O'Connell
PAUL O'CONNELL'S right arm was in a sling yesterday amid fears his Lions' tour is over after suffering an injury in the final minutes of Saturday's Test win over Australia.
There were unconfirmed reports that the talismanic lock may have fractured a bone in his hand, but the official word is that his injury is being "treated and assessed" in the hope that it will not turn out as serious as feared.
O'Connell (above) is one of the truly irreplaceable players in the Lions' team and has been one of the stand-out performers so far. If he is forced out of the tour it could prove a fatal development for the Lions' prospects of a first series win in 16 years.
There was no mention of O'Connell's injury during yesterday morning's squad update by Warren Gatland. Indeed the Lions coach insisted that the only slight concern was surrounding prop-forward Alex Corbisiero's "tight calf".
That injury has now apparently proven more worrisome with Ireland's Tom Court called into the Lions squad and on to the bench for tomorrow night's game against Melbourne Rebels. The Ireland prop benefits from being on holiday in his hometown of Brisbane.
The significance of O'Connell's potential loss cannot be overstated. He orchestrated a 100pc return from their 12 line-outs on Saturday night and has been one of their most effective players at the breakdown.
Should O'Connell be ruled out, his loss will be particularly costly after it was confirmed that Australia captain James Horwill somehow escaped censure for stamping on Alun-Wyn Jones' face during Saturday's game.
In handing down his decision, judicial officer Nigel Hampton QC cleared Horwill of any intent. "After hearing all the evidence I could not find that when James Horwill's right foot came into glancing contact with Alun-Wyn Jones' face, that he, Horwill, was acting recklessly," Hampton said.
"I found that I could not reject as being implausible or improbable Horwill's explanation that as he was driving forward with his right leg raised he was spun off balance through the impact of Lions players entering the ruck from the opposite side.
"In an endeavour to regain his balance, Horwill brought his right leg to the ground unknowing that Alun-Wyn Jones' head was in that area. Due to these reasons I cannot uphold the citing."
It is an astounding verdict and one that will certainly cause those in the Lions camp to scratch their heads.
O'Connell is due further assessment today when it is likely a decision on his future participation will be taken.
Ireland's Tom Court, meanwhile, has been called into the squad from a holiday in his home town of Brisbane. The Ulster prop is on the bench for tomorrow's game and Mako Vunipola has been withdrawn as a precaution in light of Alex Corbisiero's calf strain.