British and Irish Lions 2013: Lions lose swagger as injuries sees momentum shifts back to Wallabies

O'Connell injury blow for tourists while Aussie midfielders find fitness and Horwill reprieved

Melbourne

Yesterday, or maybe the day before, all the Lions' troubles seemed so far away: the first Test was safely in the bag, the Wallaby back division had been reduced to its component parts and James Horwill, their indispensable captain, was up to his eyeballs in disciplinary trouble. How long ago it seems. Today, the momentum appears to be shifting towards Australia at a rate of knots.

The tourists have lost Paul O'Connell, their most experienced forward and the man best equipped to handle Horwill, who, after being cleared – somewhat mystifyingly, it has to be said – of stamping on the face of the Welsh lock Alun Wyn Jones in the opening minutes of the Brisbane Test, is certain to play with the passionate vigour of a reprieved man in the second act of this three-part drama, which will unfold here on Saturday. The Irishman fractured a bone in the lower part of his right arm at the weekend and will play no further part.

The Lions have just about given up on the England loose-head prop Alex Corbisiero too, albeit not permanently. One of the best-performing tight forwards in Brisbane, he suffered a calf injury early in the game, played "through" it for 45 minutes and, possibly as a direct result, is most unlikely to feature this weekend. According to Graham Rowntree, the Lions scrum coach, Corbisiero stands a better chance of making the Sydney Test in 11 days' time – a match that could easily prove decisive.

O'Connell may return home pronto, thereby following the well-trodden path of the stricken props Cian Healy and Gethin Jenkins. On the other hand, he may do as Rowntree wishes and stay on – a decision that would allow the Lions to continue tapping into the Munsterman's vast reservoir of hard-earned wisdom. "I'd love him to stick with us," said the coach, "but it's down to him."

While the Wallabies had some negative injury news of their own – the high-calibre wing Digby Ioane and the route-one centre Pat McCabe are out of the series with shoulder and neck problems respectively; the gifted full-back Berrick Barnes will not play in the forthcoming game because of concussion – they were far happier with the progress of their first-choice midfielders, Christian Leali'ifano and Adam Ashley-Cooper. Both were hurt in Brisbane; both are expected to recover in time for Saturday's set-to.

If Rowntree felt obliged to play the diplomat with regards to Horwill's unexpected acquittal – "It's happened, so we move on: I'm not one for antagonising people, I can't change anything and I have enough to worry about," he said, sounding like some cauliflower-eared Lord Carrington – he could not hide his bitter disappointment at the loss of O'Connell, who led the Lions in South Africa four years ago and was a very senior figure in this party.

"It's a massive blow to us," he confessed. "Paul is one of the best locks of them all and he's been in the form of his life – I don't think I've ever seen him fitter. He's been such a good leader for us, without stamping over Sam Warburton [the tour captain]. I do think this will bring us together, though, and anyway, Geoff Parling has been exceptional. You can take it he'll start in Paul's place this weekend. He's much more than a line-out forward: he's a very clever footballer who is getting better and better. As he's had to do in a squad as good as this one."

Assuming Corbisiero misses this weekend's proceedings, the inexperienced Saracens prop Mako Vunipola will move from bench to starting line-up. Those who have been captivated by Vunipola's rampaging round-the-field contributions during this tour will not be overly alarmed, but he is nowhere near as sound as his fellow red-rose prop in scrummaging technique and will be seen by the Wallabies as a potential source of penalty opportunities.

When the Lions head coach, Warren Gatland, withdrew Corbisiero (right) and his fellow first-choice prop Adam Jones midway through the third quarter in Brisbane and sent on Vunipola and Dan Cole in their stead, the balance of set-piece power swung the Wallabies' way. It seemed at the time that the substitution call was not the greatest tactical move in Gatland's career, and while Rowntree did not for a moment question the decision with the aid of 20-20 hindsight, he did admit that the events of the last half-hour had given him cause for concern.

"There were some technical aspects I wasn't happy with," the coach acknowledged, "but, to be fair, the players weren't happy when they came off, either. There were some pivotal moments at the set piece and the last scrum nearly killed us. It's my job to get it sorted."

At least the Lions have Manu Tuilagi, the human bowling ball, back on the alley, so to speak. The England centre plays against the Melbourne Rebels today after recovering from a shoulder knock so severe that it damaged nerves in his neck. Yesterday, he revealed just how close he had come to following Healy and Jenkins, the most serious early-tour casualties, on an immediate flight back to Heathrow.

"After I hurt my shoulder in the game against Queensland Reds, I couldn't move my arm," the Leicester midfielder said. "There was no power there. I've had shoulder injuries before, but not as bad as this one. I was given seven days to show some improvement and I was gutted at the thought of going home, because that would have been the most disappointing moment of my career. Fortunately, the strength came back 20 or 25 per cent in that time, so the doctors gave me another week."

Hence his appearance against the Rebels in the final midweek game of the tour. The Lions coaches are hoping and praying he goes well and walks off the field intact, for judging by the way things are unravelling on the fitness front, he could well be needed for one of the remaining Tests. Has he ever played prop, does anyone know?

INS AND OUTS: Australia and Lions headcounts

* AUSTRALIA

IN

Adam Ashley-Cooper: Expected to be fit for Saturday after undergoing scans on s houlder.

Christian Leali'ifano: Recovering well after suffering blow to head in first Test.

OUT

Pat McCabe: Out after being carried off in neck brace on Saturday.

Digby Ioane: Also misses remainder of series after damaging his shoulder in first Test defeat.

Berrick Barnes: Fly-half misses second Test with concussion.

* BRITISH AND IRISH LIONS

OUT

Paul O'Connell: Misses rest of the tour after fracturing his arm.

Alex Corbisiero: Very doubtful for Saturday's Test due to a calf injury

Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Sport
Steven Fletcher scores the second goal for Scotland
cricketBut they have to bounce back to beat Gibraltar in Euro 2016 qualifier
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Evans is the favourite to replace Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing