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Dublin: 9 °C Thursday 17 October, 2019
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Lions 7 jersey a straight shoot-out between Sean O’Brien and Justin Tipuric

Warren Gatland will name his starting Xv for the Third Test in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Sean O'Brien streaks away from Michael Hooper of Australia.
Sean O'Brien streaks away from Michael Hooper of Australia.
Image: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

THE UNIT THAT looked impregnable for most of the Lions tour was finally forced to accept its first ‘tour-ending injury’ blow as captain Sam Warburton’s torn hamstring did for his Third Test hopes.

Speaking before the Lions tour, forwards coach Graham Rowntree revealed England’s Chris Robshaw was on stand-by should any of the back rows pick up a serious injury. Since then, the Lions have picked up injuries and knocks across the squad yet Robshaw’s phone never buzzed. He is now preparing for the 2013/14 season with Harlequins.

Warburton delivered his best performance of this tour in the 16-15 defeat to Australia, turning the ball over three times and forcing penalties. His sweet talking to referee Craig Joubert also kept Mako Vunipola out of the sin bin when he was boring into the scrum at acute angles. His hamstring tour in the second-half and Gatland lost another on-field leader of men.

Lions tour manager Andy Irvine told the assembled media today, “It’s a serious blow because Sam started the tour with a knee injury but got better as the tour progressed. In the first half he was the outstanding player on the park. He’s extremely disappointed that he’s not available.” He added:

On the positive side we’re fortunate that it’s one of the positions where we have tremendous reserve strength. We feel for Sam, he’s been a super captain and role model to the lads. Hopefully we can go out and win the Third Test for him.”

The reserve strength comes in the form of Sean O’Brien, who has featured off the bench in the Second Test, and one of the Lions’ best performers in the early weeks of the tour, Justin Tipuric. The Welsh flanker appeared destined for a Test start early in the tour as Warburton struggled to shake off a knee injury and he impressed against the Barbarians and Queensland Reds.

Justin Tipuric in action against Combined Country XV. (©INPHO/Dan Sheridan)

Once Warburton was able to prove his fitness, and with Tom Croft starring against the Waratahs, Tipuric’s fate looked sealed. He started against the Brumbies and looked as listless as his 14 teammates as Jake White’s men blitzed the Lions at the breakdown.

O’Brien must feel a sense of frustration at being pigeon-holed as an impact sub and back row positional cover before the first Lions flight had set off for Hong Kong, let alone Australia. He lost out on a bench role to Dan Lydiate for the First Test and was needed in the, ultimately futile, defensive line in Melbourne. His presence in last week’s Test squad gives him that battle-hardened edge to start at openside.

Irvine gave no definite indications that injury doubts Jamie Roberts, Alex Corbisiero and Mike Phillips, with his tricky knee, would be fit for selection but neither of the trio have to be exactly 100% to get the starting nod. Roberts is expected to line up in midfield alongside captain-in-waiting Brian O’Driscoll.

*TheScore.ie will bring you the latest Lions team news when it breaks on Wednesday morning.

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Patrick McCarry

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