Thursday 23 November 2017

Healy faces abrupt end to tour

Cian Healy is treated on the pitch after sustaining an injury during the game
Cian Healy is treated on the pitch after sustaining an injury during the game

Andrew Baldock

Cian Healy could be formally ruled out of the British and Irish Lions tour tomorrow.

Ireland prop Healy faces potentially the most painful day of his rugby life after arriving in Brisbane on crutches and awaiting a disciplinary hearing following a biting allegation.

Healy will have his left ankle scanned tomorrow - he was carried off during the Lions' victory over Western Force yesterday - and head coach Warren Gatland accepts the prognosis "doesn't look brilliant".

But if the injury does not dash his tour hopes, then a potential suspension could.

Healy was cited for an alleged bite on Force scrum-half Brett Sheehan, and a disciplinary officer must now decide whether or not he should be banned. If the case against Healy is proved, he might be looking at a minimum 12-week suspension.

Wales international Gethin Jenkins will wear the number one shirt against Queensland Reds on Saturday, while Alex Corbisiero is expected to arrive from England's Argentina tour on Saturday as injury cover for Healy

"Everyone is gutted because you could see how much pain he (Healy) was in," Jenkins said.

"You hope for the best. Obviously, he was in a lot of pain. He is a world-class player, Cian, and if he does go home it will be a big loss to us.

"He has got a scan tomorrow. He is hobbling around a bit at the moment. The prognosis doesn't look brilliant, but he hasn't been ruled out officially at this stage.

"We needed to make a call early to get Alex Corbisiero over. Hopefully, he will arrive about midday on Saturday.

"I think he will fit into the type of game we want to play. He's mobile, he is a quick learner and he is a quality player."

Gatland has made 13 changes for the Reds clash, with only Manu Tuilagi and Tommy Bowe retained. Tuilagi moves to outside centre alongside Jonathan Davies, while Bowe switches to the left wing.

Jenkins, his fellow prop Matt Stevens, hooker Tom Youngs, lock Geoff Parling, scrum-half Ben Youngs and tour captain Sam Warburton, who becomes the 800th Lion, make their first starts of the trip.

"In fairness to the Western Force team, they played for 80 minutes and didn't throw in the towel, which is exactly what we expected, and we are expecting another tough encounter against the Reds," Gatland said.

"We are mixing and matching a little, but giving players an opportunity. We said right from the start we would give everyone a start in the first three games, and that's what we've done.

"Two games and two victories is great, but those two matches are building blocks as we head towards the Test series."

And Warburton, whose tour entry was delayed for precautionary reasons while he overcame a knee injury, added: "I wish the game was tomorrow, really.

"It's nice having seen all the boys bringing their Lions jerseys back to the hotel and having them in their kit bags to take home with them. I haven't gone one yet.

"I am just dying to get on the pitch. It can't come quickly enough. Since we got together as a squad it has been amazing. I have absolutely loved it, even though I haven't played.

"I don't feel left out at all. Now I have got a chance on Saturday. I have been thinking about this game for quite a while, and I am absolutely desperate to get on the pitch."

Warburton will be charged with keeping a close watch on mercurial Australian fly-half Quade Cooper this weekend, but it is a challenge he is relishing.

"I have played against Quade a few times. He's an outstanding player, with great footwork, and I am sure he will pose a different threat at 10 than what we've faced the last two weeks," Warburton said.

"He will definitely be an attacking threat, and that's what you want. You want to play against players like Quade because you want to test out your defensive system."

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