Time running out for Kearney as Howley admits Test side is taking shape
ROB KEARNEY cannot afford to have his return to competitive action delayed much longer as assistant Lions coach Rob Howley confirmed that the Test team is beginning to emerge.
Kearney is expected to be available when the Lions play the Waratahs next Saturday, June 15. It is unlikely he would be considered for the opening Test against Australia on June 22 unless he plays in that match.
After today's game against the Queensland Reds in Brisbane, Kearney will be the only player on tour yet to make his 2013 Lions debut.
"Rob is coming on slowly, but he came through Thursday's travel day better than had been anticipated, which is positive," said Howley.
"Fingers crossed he'll be back running in the next couple of days and will be available for selection."
The Lions management have refused to put a deadline on Kearney's return to fitness but he is running out of time, with just three games to go after tonight's outing until the first Test.
"From a coaching perspective, you are starting to look at Test selection after tonight's game against the Reds," said Howley.
"Tonight is a big game in terms of the selection process, and trying to give opportunities to combinations."
The Lions are obviously comfortable with the cover they have for the full-back position and it's a nod to the esteem he is held in that Kearney has not been replaced in the squad.
He has certainly lost a lot of ground to Leigh Halfpenny in the race for the Test position. Halfpenny was excellent on Wednesday, and Stuart Hogg has a chance today to push Kearney further down the pecking order when he faces the Queensland Reds.
If Kearney does make his return in the Waratahs game, it still leaves little time to catch up. After that outing, the Lions play Super 15 side Brumbies on Tuesday, June 18. That is their final game before the opening Test.
The Brumbies are likely to play as strong a team as they possibly can in that game. They will be without their current Wallaby players but their coach Jake White – like Reds' Ewen McKensie tonight – wants the Lions' scalp as a bargaining chip in the fight to succeed under-pressure Australia boss Robbie Deans.