Flannery joins list of missing Lions

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The Independent Online

The Lions suffered a treble blow yesterday as they prepare to fly out to South Africa this weekend.

First came news that Wales winger Leigh Halfpenny would have to stay behind for a further fortnight, then last night Ireland flanker Alan Quinlan had his appeal against a 12-week ban for gouging dismissed at an European Rugby Cup hearing in Glasgow.

The Lions head coach Ian McGeechan was then dealt a third blow when it was confirmed that the Ireland hooker Jerry Flannery – who tore ligaments in his elbow during training yesterday – will definitely miss the tour. In a statement last night, the Lions management said they would be making an announcement about a replacement for the Munster man in due course. Ireland's Rory Best and Scotland's Ross Ford are the hookers currently on the standby list.

Leicester's England back-row forward Tom Croft was swiftly called up to replace Quinlan, and there is a chance Delon Armitage could receive the call as Halfpenny's stand-in.

Quinlan had been found guilty of eye gouging during Munster's Heineken Cup semi-final against Leinster at Croke Park in Dublin on 2 May, and the player appealed the decision to ban him for 12 weeks. He will be eligible to play against on 10 September.

The Lions' medical team has decided that Halfpenny's thigh injury was more serious than at first thought and so instead of flying out on Sunday he will stay behind in order to undergo a course of intensive treatment for up to a fortnight, before joining up with the party.

The Lions management confirmed that a replacement would be called up this time, the second they have been forced to make after replacing Munster scrum-half Tomas O'Leary with Scotland captain Mike Blair. The extra player – plus the probable addition of a hooker to replace Flannery – will take the Lions squad back to 37 players after McGeechan had initially decided not to replace centre Tom Shanklin when he injured a shoulder.

That decision hit England's Armitage hard. He had been widely expected to get a call-up and the player said yesterday: "I was massively disappointed. I looked at it as an opportunity to sneak on to the tour."

But Halfpenny's delay may yet work in Armitage's favour, because the Lions have to recruit someone who can kick and play full-back, which the London Irish player can do – unless they feel that Danny Cipriani could fill the role, since he has played full-back and been kicking goals in the Premiership this season.

If ever the Lions needed a recruiting officer though they could do worse than choose England born again hooker Steve Thompson, who retired with a neck injury three years ago only to resurrect his playing career after an operation corrected the problem.

He said yesterday he has played a key role in attracting red rose internationals over to France to play for Brive. "I knew by playing in France there was the possibility I'd ended my career with England. But in fact it has been my route back into the England team."

Thompson has been helped by having an Englishman, as joint chief executive at Brive. "It helped having Simon Gillham, an Englishman, there" said Thompson. "It was never an issue, the club said we'll do whatever it takes for you to play for England."

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