Saturday 24 February 2018

Lions tour over for Paul O'Connell after injury

Conor George in Melbourne.

PAUL O'CONNELL'S Lions Tour is over. It has been confirmed the talismanic second row has fractured a bone in his right arm and will be returning home.

O'Connell suffered the injury in the dying minutes of Saturday's first Test against Australia. It had been hoped he might be able to play a further part in the Tour - perhaps in the third and final Test - but scans revealed the extent of the injury and his and the Lions' worst fears.

It is not known yet if the Lions will call up a replacement second-row or stick with those already on Tour.

The fear now for the Lions is that the loss of O'Connell will be fatal to their hopes of winning a first Test Series in 16 years.

They were extremely fortunate to win Saturday's Test and surely Australia will not leave 14 points behind them in Saturday's second Test as they did at the weekend.

Had the Wallabies a consistent goal-kicker they would have won Saturday's game.

Paul O'Connell went on as a second-half substitute against the Reds
Paul O'Connell went on as a second-half substitute against the Reds

It is a particularly cruel fate for O'Connell as he has been uniformly excellent on this Tour and fought his way back to fitness after undergoing back surgery on New Year's Eve to make the Tour.

O'Connell has been given the option by management to stay with the squad given his significant positive influence but it is unclear whether the Limerick man has taken them up on the offer.

The 33-year-old is on his third Lions tour, having played in seven Tests, and acted as captain back in the 2009 series against South Africa.

O'Connell's tour-ending injury has resulted in a reshuffle to the 23 selected for tomorrow's final midweek game against the Melbourne Rebels at AAMI Park.

In an indication that he will start the second Test against Australia, Geoff Parling has been withdrawn from the XV, with the captaincy given to flanker Dan Lydiate.

Ian Evans takes Parling's place in the second row with Tom Croft drafted onto the replacements bench.

Ireland prop Tom Court, currently in his home city of Brisbane, will join the squad today as cover for Alex Corbisiero, who has a tight calf muscle.

Court will go straight on to the Lions bench for tomorrow's game.

Away from the injury situation, Gatland last night questioned Kurtley Beale's choice of footwear as a potential reason for his failure to kick the Lions' first Test hopes into oblivion.

The Lions held on for victory at Suncorp Stadium, but it would have been different had substitute Beale landed a last-gasp penalty instead of it drifting wide after he slipped on impact.

"If I was a coach looking at Kurtley Beale coming on, I would be looking at the boots he was wearing," Gatland said.

"He came on to the field wearing 'mouldies' and he slipped over taking that last kick. He slipped over on a couple of occasions. Why has he come out on the field wearing that sort of footwear in those sort of conditions?"

"We've had these issues a lot with our players with Wales at the Millennium Stadium.

"It's quite a slippery surface, and on a lot of occasions we've said to players to make sure they have the right footwear because it is a slippery surface and you have to turn up with the right tools. It's part of your job, making sure that you are prepared."

The Lions prevailed through tries in each half by Wales wings George North and Alex Cuthbert, while full-back Leigh Halfpenny kicked five from six shots at goal.

In contrast, Wallabies kickers Beale and James O'Connor saw 14 points go begging as the Lions ultimately repeated their opening Test win in Brisbane of 12 years ago and also overcame some erratic refereeing by New Zealand official Chris Pollock.

"A few players came off the field feeling a bit frustrated. They found it difficult (to understand) a couple of times when they were penalised," Gatland added.

"Mako Vunipola was penalised for coming in from the side, but he was part of the tackle, and that could have cost us the game at the end.

"One of the strengths of Brian O'Driscoll is his ability to get on the ball and create turnovers, and he just felt he wasn't able to do that as part of his game because he had been penalised on a couple of occasions.

"He knew if he got penalised again he would get a yellow card, so he stayed away from the ball.

"Craig Joubert (second Test referee) is a very experienced referee. We'll put last night behind us and it will probably be good for him (Joubert) having been an assistant referee in that match, on the sideline, to know about the pace of the game.

"I thought he was good in terms of the support he gave the referee, and I am looking forward to the number one referee in the world doing next Saturday."

Irish Independent

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