Injured Welsh centre Tom Shanklin will not be replaced in the British and Irish Lions squad for South Africa, reducing the party departing next week to 36, coach Ian McGeechan said today.
Shanklin dislocated a shoulder two weeks ago playing for Cardiff and was ruled out of the six-week tour, which kicks off against a Highveld XV on 30 May.
However, the failure of Lions-heavy Munster and Cardiff to reach next Saturday's Heineken Cup final in Edinburgh has eased the pressure on the touring squad.
"When we selected the extra player back in April we were really trying to cover all our bases regarding the Heineken Cup final, where we could have been without 16 players," McGeechan told a news conference to mark the squad's first day together.
"As it's transpired, for the first two tour games we can cover the squad and really we want to give the opportunity and the responsibility to the players who are there to try to fill that role.
"Going back to 36 just gives us the chance to give players and combinations a bit more game time which is so important with so little time before the first test," added McGeechan, who was the midweek coach four years ago when Clive Woodward took 45 players to New Zealand.
McGeechan has already drafted in Scotland captain Mike Blair for Tomas O'Leary after the Ireland scrumhalf broke his ankle but is being forced to wait on a decision over Irish flanker Alan Quinlan, who looks sure to be ruled out after being banned for 12 weeks for eye-gouging.
Quinlan, something of a surprise inclusion, has until 1600 GMT on Monday to lodge an appeal over his ban. If he does so, the hearing will be held by next Wednesday.
McGeechan said he had identified a likely replacement, probably England's Tom Croft, but had not yet informed him.
One other player was missing from Monday's get-together after Northampton, who play Bourgoin in Friday's European Challenge Cup final, refused to release prop Euan Murray.
The Lions management, who were informed of the decision only early on Monday, were furious with Northampton, having informed the clubs and unions six months ago that the entire squad would be needed on Monday for logistical issues, sponsor duties and the official tour photograph.
Murray, along with the players of Leinster and Leicester involved in the Heineken Cup final, would have returned to his club in the evening.
"It's disappointing for us but also for Euan," said Lions chief executive John Feehan. "We have asked the Rugby Football Union to speak to the club but we will just have to get on without him."Reuse content