Quinnell's tour exit disturbs the Lions

Rugby Union

The Lions have not exactly turned pear-shaped - not yet, at any rate - but a debilitating run of controversy, injury and defeat has given the tour a distinctly warped demeanour. Scott Gibbs' suspension and the premature departures of Doddie Weir and Paul Grayson had already knocked Fran Cotton and his management team back on their heels and yesterday, they took a blow in the solar plexus when Scott Quinnell pulled out of the Test series with groin trouble.

Quinnell aggravated a long-standing muscle condition during the defeat by Northern Transvaal in Pretoria on Saturday and although he completed the game, he was quickly ruled out of further participation by James Robson, the tour doctor, after an emergency consultation on Sunday. "I'm devastated," he said yesterday. "I've worked so hard for this. Now all I can do is go home and watch the series on television."

Although Cotton diplomatically avoided saying as much, Quinnell was a racing certainty for the No 8 berth in the opening Test against the Springboks on Saturday week and his absence deprives the Lions of their most effective ball-carrying forward. The Welshman had also looked sharper and more committed than usual in defence - indeed, he was the Lions' busiest and most accomplished performer against Eastern Province in Port Elizabeth just over a fortnight ago - and the tourists know they have lost one of their most influential figures.

Cotton and his colleagues were not deciding on a replacement until late last night, presumably delaying their deliberations until the England side touched down at Heathrow following their squared Test series in Argentina. Two obvious contenders, Ben Clarke - a Lion in more than one sense of the word in New Zealand four years ago - and Tony Diprose both played against the Pumas last weekend and are considered to be in very sharp form indeed.

However, Quinnell's misfortune carries even more relevance for Eric Miller and Tim Rodber, the respective No 8s of Ireland and England and now direct rivals for a treasured Test cap in Cape Town on 21 June. Miller was seriously downcast after the defeat at Loftus Versfeld - a game in which he was played out of position on the open-side flank - but he will now have an opportunity, probably against Natal on Saturday, to bring his undoubted dynamism to bear in his favoured position. Rodber, meanwhile, captains the side against Gauteng, formerly known as Transvaal, in Johannesburg tomorrow night.

Ian McGeechan, the coach, agreed yesterday that some players might play in both of this week's matches against powerful Super 12 provinces. That should encourage Tom Smith and Paul Wallace, the two ball-handling Celtic props, who came to South Africa as rank outsiders for the Tests but, thanks to their exceptional mobility, are making rather more of an impact than some of their strong-arm colleagues.

Tony Underwood plays his third successive game on the left wing, Mike Catt gets his first start at outside-half and Nigel Redman, the 32-year- old Bath lock who, rumour has it, once played alongside William Webb Ellis, makes perhaps the most popular Lions debut of them all. "I never thought it would happen to me," said Redman, who was called in from Buenos Aires when Weir picked up his serious knee injury in Witbank six days ago. "My wife burst into tears when I told her I'd been summoned. They were definitely tears of joy; after all, she won't be seeing me for another month now " A welcome shaft of humour on a dark day

LIONS (v Gauteng, Johannesburg, tomorrow): N Beal (Northampton and England); J Bentley (Newcastle and England), A Bateman (Richmond and Wales), W Greenwood (Leicester), T Underwood (Newcastle and England); M Catt (Bath and England), A Healey (Leicester and England); T Smith (Watsonians and Scotland), B Williams (Richmond and Wales), P Wallace (Saracens and Ireland), N Redman (Bath and England), J Davidson (London Irish and Ireland), R Wainwright (Watsonians and Scotland), T Rodber (Northampton and England, capt), N Back (Leicester and England). Replacements: J Guscott (Bath and England), N Jenkins (Pontypridd and Wales), M Dawson (Northampton and England), K Wood (Harlequins and Ireland), D Young (Cardiff and Wales), E Miller (Leicester and Ireland).

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