Ryan Jones, the captain of Wales and one of the highest profile omissions from the original British and Irish Lions tour party, was yesterday ruled out of the forthcoming series with the Springboks by a South African neurosurgeon, less than 24 hours after arriving in the country as a replacement for the injured flanker Stephen Ferris.
Jones did not even take part in a training session, and the episode will lead to serious questions about player welfare.
The 28-year-old Ospreys forward, one of very few Lions to emerge from the 2005 tour of New Zealand with reputation enhanced, lasted only 20 minutes of his country's 48-15 win over the United States in Chicago last weekend. He took a heavy hit from prop Will Johnson in the opening seconds, went off for a lengthy spell of treatment and, after making a brief return, left the field for good with his faculties in obvious disarray.
Yet when the Lions sounded out Jones' availability after Ferris damaged his knee ligaments during training on Monday, they were assured he was fit to travel. The Welshman arrived here on Thursday, meeting up with the tourists as they flew into Cape Town from Durban. He was immediately examined by the Lions' medics, who promptly smelled a rat.
Gerald Davies, the Lions manager, said last night that Jones "underwent the same routine of medical testing as all replacement players joining the tour". It was after these tests that the senior doctor, James Robson, decided the player should undergo a more thorough examination by a specialist neurosurgeon."On the advice of the neurosurgeon, it was determined that it was not safe for Ryan to undertake any physical contact for a mandatory three-week period," Davies explained. "This is in line with the International Rugby Board's regulation 10.1 on concussion."
Jones was scheduled to fly home last night, thereby ending the briefest tour cameo of any player in Lions history. In this country in 1980, another Welsh flanker, Stuart Lane, was invalided out of the trip after injuring himself in the opening minute of the opening game against Eastern Province in Port Elizabeth. By comparison with Jones, however, he enjoyed a long and fruitful visit.
No one from the Lions camp was publicly critical of Jones' handling back in Britain, but there were a good deal of puzzled expressions and furrowed brows among the management. Jones would not have challenged for a place in the first Test in Durban a week today, but he would certainly have been involved in Tuesday's game with the newly-formed Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth and might well have pressed for a role against the Springboks later in the series. His abrupt disappearance means the tourists are short of back-row options, especially as there is continuing concern of the precise state of fitness of Andy Powell, the Welsh No 8, who has been suffering from hand problems.
Ian McGeechan, the head coach, said he was not considering another call-up immediately, but the Lions were expecting a hard game against Western Province at Newlands today and when the physicality of a tour increases, loose forwards are often the first to feel the pain of it.
At present, the Lions have six back-row forwards available to them: Tom Croft and Joe Worsley of England, David Wallace and Jamie Heaslip of Ireland, and Martyn Williams and Powell of Wales. In addition, they have the lock Alun-Wyn Jones, one of Ryan Jones' clubmates at Ospreys, who can play blind-side flanker at a pinch. With half a dozen games of the 10-match programme still to play, they will be lucky to get through without reinforcements.
The Lions have now lost three players in the space of five days: Ferris, Jones and the goal-kicking wing Leigh Halfpenny, who aggravated a thigh injury in training after arriving late on tour. Three of the original party – the centre Tom Shanklin, the scrum-half Tomas O'Leary and the hooker Jerry Flannery – pulled out injured before boarding the plane, while the Munster flanker Alan Quinlan was forced to withdraw through suspension.Reuse content