Dallaglio determined to be back in action by October

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The Independent Online

The last time Lawrence Dallaglio picked up a serious injury, on the Lions tour of Australia four years ago, the effect on Graham Henry was entirely negative. The former England captain would, after all, have been among the first names on the coach's team sheet for the series with the Wallabies. That was then. Henry is running the All Blacks now, not the Lions, and yesterday there was just a smidgen of relief in his tone as he sought, with the appropriate degree of solemnity, to commiserate with the stricken No 8.

The last time Lawrence Dallaglio picked up a serious injury, on the Lions tour of Australia four years ago, the effect on Graham Henry was entirely negative. The former England captain would, after all, have been among the first names on the coach's team sheet for the series with the Wallabies. That was then. Henry is running the All Blacks now, not the Lions, and yesterday there was just a smidgen of relief in his tone as he sought, with the appropriate degree of solemnity, to commiserate with the stricken No 8.

"Amongst the All Blacks, there is a lot of genuine sympathy for the guy and his predicament," Henry said. "It's a very sad situation for him, and it robs the tour of a world-class performer. People were suggesting that he was in the best shape of his life and he certainly looked in good condition during his time on the field at the weekend. I shared in his disappointment in Australia, so I have an idea of what he's feeling now. To have two Lions trips end like this is hard."

There are those who will respond to this outpouring of sporting grief by reminding themselves of the old saying that "those who can fake sincerity have it made". Certainly, Dallaglio's absence from the forthcoming three-match series makes Henry's job easier. But the artful New Zealander did not appear to be spinning one of his yarns; as he pointed out, Dallaglio won "big raps" for his proud performances at the helm of the exhausted, under-strength England team who toured here a year ago.

And the player himself? Dallaglio was in high good humour, considering the five screws, not to mention the metal plate, now holding his ankle together. Having undergone an operation to repair the joint he mangled so badly during the Lions' opening game with Bay of Plenty at the weekend - besides dislocating it badly enough to necessitate surgical realignment, he suffered a broken fibia and serious damage to the surrounding ligaments - he was more concerned with the style of his departure from the pitch.

"I knew my tour was over the moment it happened," he said. "There was no messing around because I recognised the severity of the problem, but it did occur to me that in all my career, I had never been carried off on a stretcher. Even when I wrecked my knee ligaments on the last Lions tour, I played on. There is a first time for everything, I suppose. My three children thought it very funny that their dad had to be taken off the field on a golf cart.

"It is an unfortunate coincidence to have been injured on successive Lions tours, but the dice rolled and I have to accept it. I am much more positive now I know the exact extent of the injury - if I had to break a bone in my leg, the fibia was the best option - and while I am under no illusions as to the amount of hard work I face to get fit for next season, I'll be very disappointed if I'm not back playing by October. Three months of my recovery will be spent out of season and as the surgeon is predicting a four-to-six-month time scale, I may miss just the September."

Dallaglio might take encouragement from the presence of Sailosi Tagicakibau in the Taranaki side for tomorrow's meeting with the Lions. The 22-year-old Samoa wing suffered a hairline fracture of his right leg on 30 April - he was playing Super 12 rugby for the Waikato Chiefs at the time - yet faces the tourists in New Plymouth.

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I wasn't going to miss it because of a broken bone in my leg," he said, succinctly.

Henry will award first caps to three players against Fiji in Albany on Friday. The most intriguing is Sitiveni Sivivatu, the Waikato wing who scored two bludgeoning tries during last week's All Black trial and is now seeking to keep Joe Rokocoko out of the opening Test against the Lions in Christchurch on 25 June. The other debutants are the Auckland hooker Derren Witcombe and the Otago lock James Ryan.

On the subject of Rokocoko, whose fall from grace takes some believing by those who witnessed the mayhem he created last season, Henry said: "He's still under consideration - generally speaking, he has been exceptional in the Tests he played for us - but one of the strengths of our rugby is that we have maybe five wings of real quality. Joe is a little low on confidence, and there are other people we want to see."

l The France flanker Olivier Magne, 32, has agreed a two-year deal with London Irish after leaving Clermont Auvergne.

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