Saturday 20 January 2018

Sam Warburton injury opens door for Ireland's Sean O'Brien

Sean O'Brien of the British & Irish Lions
Sean O'Brien of the British & Irish Lions

Ruaidhri O'Connor in Christchurch

Sam Warburton is in danger of losing the opportunity to prove his fitness in time for the first Test against New Zealand after Warren Gatland revealed his captain suffered an ankle injury in the Lions’ opening win over Provincial Barbarians last weekend.

The Wales star’s woes could open the door for Sean O’Brien who has overcome his calf problem and starts against the Crusaders on Saturday.

The victory in Whangarei was the only game Warburton has played since damaging his knee against Ulster on April 7, meaning he is in danger of being over-cooked for the series.

Gatland has stated his intention to pick his strongest side for next Saturday’s game against the Maori in Rotorua, but he may wish to press his skipper into action against the Highlanders on Tuesday; potentially throwing him out of selection kilter as the Lions try to build combinations quickly and in a pressurised environment.

“We are pretty good fitness wise. Nothing serious last night,” Gatland said after naming his team to face the Crusaders yesterday.

“Dan Biggar has a six-day turnaround, that’s the protocol, so he’s not available, Ross Moriarty has had a back spasm, but he’s recovering well.

“Sam Warburton had a bit of slight ankle strain after the first game, he just needs a few more days.”

Conor Murray gets his first outing of the tour alongside Owen Farrell in what looks to be the most likely Test combination and Lions fans will be hoping they gel quickly.

Gatland is desperate to ensure they don’t lose back to back games this early in the tour.

“The Crusaders are playing with a lot of confidence, moving the ball. It’s going to be a big test for us,” he said.

“It would be disappointing to lose back to back matches. The challenge is to come together as quick as we can.

“It’s great test for us and preparation. We are trying to keep a few things back behind closed doors.”

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