Rugby Union: Lions count casualties

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The Independent Online
The walking wounded are becoming legion. The Lions selectors went into their final Test deliberations last night having forfeited five players, four of them integral components of the first-choice squad, in the course of a frantic day's activity on the treatment table. As a result, the available options for this weekend's last hurrah with the Springboks in Johannesburg were dramatically curtailed.

Keith Wood, such an influential figure in the Test victories at Newlands and King's Park, will miss the finale because of severe groin trouble and Alan Tait, the Scottish utility back whose try topped and tailed the opening triumph in Cape Town, has also given best to a similar condition.

Meanwhile, Jason Leonard, the most experienced prop forward in the party, suffered a serious tear of a thigh muscle during Tuesday's win over Northern Free State and was not only ruled out of contention but also England's one-off international against Australia in Sydney on Saturday week. Kyran Bracken, the scrum-half, may yet make it Down Under but the collar-bone injury he collected in Welkom gives him no chance of a meaningful role at Ellis Park.

But perhaps the unluckiest casualty was Eric Miller, the 21-year-old Irish No 8 who would have played in the first Test had he not fallen victim to a virus at the eleventh hour. Miller damaged a thigh muscle as he ran on as a replacement in Durban last Saturday and aggravated the condition during training yesterday at Vanderbijlpark.

Fran Cotton was in bullish mood, however. "I think we've proved that we have enormous playing strength and, with so many people performing well, these setbacks should not make too much difference to the way we approach the Test," the manager said. "Given that this is the most intensive itinerary ever undertaken by a major rugby nation, fitness problems at the end of such a trip were predictable."

Cotton repeated his allegations of stamping against Northern Free State, but withdrew his threat to cite the transgressers. "I've viewed a video of the match and there were three or four clear instances in which a Northern Free State boot came into contact with a Lions body for no good reason, but there was nothing serious enough to warrant a citing," he said.

The manager did name one player, though, accusing Fritz van Heerden, the Springbok replacement forward, of splitting Tim Rodber's eyebrow with a punch late in the Durban Test. "He's a lucky man," he said. "We didn't see the punch until we watched the video, by which time it was too late to cite him for violent conduct." Van Heerden is on the South African bench once again this Saturday.

The Bath prop Kevin Yates has been called into the England squad to face Australia in Sydney on 12 July as a replacement for Jason Leonard.

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