Monday 22 January 2018

Warburton admits he is a major doubt for third test

British and Irish Lions' Sam Warburton (right) sits with an injured leg alongside team-mate Ben Youngs
British and Irish Lions' Sam Warburton (right) sits with an injured leg alongside team-mate Ben Youngs

Duncan Bech

British and Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton is a doubt for the deciding Test against Australia in Sydney after sustaining a hamstring injury in today's 16-15 defeat at the Etihad Stadium.

Warburton was helped from the pitch in the 67th minute and watched from the sidelines as Wallabies centre Christian Leali'ifano converted Adam Ashley-Cooper's late try to seal the win and level the series.

A clearer picture over Warburton's availability for the decider should emerge by Monday and the 24-year-old Wales flanker is prepared to do whatever it takes to lead the Lions at the ANZ Stadium.

"I have a sore hamstring at the moment. The normal protocol is ice every two hours throughout the night," Warburton said.

"The physios never make a proper assessment until 24-48 hours, so on Monday I should know what's going on.

"I haven't done this injury before. Normally if I've tweaked a knee I know what it is, but this is a new injury.

"Of course I want to lead the team in the third Test and I'll do everything I can to do that."

For a second successive weekend the losing side failed with a long-range penalty that would have clinched victory in the last act of the game, but this time it was the Lions who were mourning.

Leigh Halfpenny, who had already kicked 15 points, fell short with a 55-metre attempt and Australia celebrated at having hauled themselves back into series contention.

Halfpenny has missed only four kicks all tour - completing 32 out of 36 - and Warburton refused to blame his Wales team-mate for an agonising result.

"I've seen Leigh kick those before so it was a good decision to go for the three points. In training he'll bang them over," Warburton said.

"He just didn't connect on this occasion, but he can't blame himself because it was an extremely difficult kick. Come Monday morning he'll be fine and as good as gold.

"It was a realistic chance to win the Test series and if I'd still been on the pitch I would have looked at Leigh straight away and told him to go for it."

The Lions were ahead for much of an error-ridden second Test that only came alive in the final 10 minutes when Australia - led by Will Genia, Israel Folau and Kurtley Beale - pressed for the crucial try.

It arrived in the 76th minute when Ashley-Cooper ran the perfect line onto James O'Connor's pass to power over, leaving Leali'ifano to complete the victory with a nerveless conversion close to the touchline.

The Wallabies were irrepressible as their talent-packed backline began to fire and there was a sense of inevitability about the try, leaving Warburton to rue their persistence.

"The series is going down to the wire, that's what happens when you play a world class side like Australia," Warburton said.

"It didn't finish the way we wanted, but we have every chance and are in the same situation that we were before the game - there's a Test series up for grabs.

"The players are disappointed but tomorrow we'll wake up and we still have every chance of winning. It's not doom and gloom.

"Whatever happens I always expect Australia to go until the 81st minute. They always keep pressing.

"That's the one thing I've learned about them the hard way with Wales. You can never settle unless you're a couple of scores ahead with a few minutes to go.

"They did well and were the ones to find the try. Next week is like a cup final, we forget about the last couple of weeks."

Lions head coach Warren Gatland, who reported a clean bill of health other than Warburton, denied the balance of power in the series has shifted towards Australia.

The tourists depart for Sunshine Coast holiday resort Noosa tomorrow when Gatland begins the process of lifting spirits for the Lions' last ditch attempt at winning a series for the first time in 16 years.

"It's 1-1 and we have a big game next weekend. We'll look after ourselves in the next couple of days and we'll look forward to it," he said.

"This was another close one that could have gone either way. In fairness to Australia, they kept going for 80 minutes. It was a tough, tough Test match.

"I don't think the momentum is with Australia now - we saw how close that game was."

It was Australia's turn to stand with their hearts in their mouths - last Saturday it was Beale who came up short - as they watched Halfpenny attempt to secure the series.

The outstanding James Horwill, who will miss the third Test if he is banned for stamping by a disciplinary hearing on Monday, is predicting a epic struggle in next Saturday's final Test.

"I hoped that Halfpenny would miss. He's hardly missed a kick all tour so your pulse rate certainly goes up," said the Wallabies captain.

"We were disappointed to let them have a shot at goal like that. We should have run the clock down and closed the game out with more composure.

"We found a way to win. It probably wasn't the prettiest game of rugby, but we found a way to win. These are intense battles that come down to one moment.

"Now all bets are off. It's one game to win it. To lead the team in a game of that magnitude would be huge for me. There's relief and jubilation.

"It will be close next week, one or two points in it. Both teams are evenly matched.

"The Lions will bounce back like any quality team. I'm expecting it to be the toughest game of the tour."

Robbie Deans, whose future as Australia's head coach is thought to be tied to the outcome of the series, was impressed by the way his team delivered at the critical moment.

"I'm very proud. It doesn't get any bigger than that. They knew that if they didn't score a try and conversion the series would be done," Deans said.

"There's one Test to go. How good is that? What a great series! It's great for the game and Saturday will be a great end to the series."

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