Sean Long would still have been Great Britain's first-choice scrum half against Australia this weekend had he not walked out on the squad, the Lions coach, Brian Noble, has revealed.
Long is now back in England after telling Noble that he wanted to be released from the Tri-Nations tour because he was concerned about his pregnant wife.
When he arrived back in Manchester, the St Helens scrum-half said that fatigue was the main factor in his decision. "I feel that I let my team-mates down, but that I would have let them down worse if I had tried to play on," Long said.
The Great Britain camp in Sydney has insisted that Long's departure had nothing to do with drunken behaviour on the flight back from Wellington after Saturday's 34-4 defeat by New Zealand, nor with allegations of illegal betting. Noble described the incident on the plane as "a minor issue that has been blown out of all proportion although it would be silly to say that he didn't have a drink".
Suggestions abound that St Helens players have been in conflict with Noble over the team's style of play and over whether Saints hooker James Roby should be in the starting side after his impressive performances off the bench, but the coach denied any rift in the camp.
"The mood is very good, very positive," he insisted. " Sometimes these things can galvanise teams."
Hull's Richard Horne was last night given the job of taking over from Long against Australia, with Martin Gleeson recalled in the centres and Brian Carney still absent with his hamstring injury.
Australia's coach, Ricky Stuart, named a side with five changes from the line-up beaten by Britain. Justin Hodges returns at centre in place of Jamie Lyon, and Johnathan Thurston replaces Ben Hornby at scrum half while Brent Kite, Cameron Smith and Andrew Ryan start in the pack.Reuse content