British & Irish Lions
Gatland fears Lions underdone
June 9, 2013
George North seems certain to be in the first Test team, subject to fitness © Getty Images
Lions racing time for first Test Warren Gatland is concerned his injury-hit British & Irish Lions will be two games underdone leading into their showpiece Test series against the Wallabies.
The Lions were forced to dig deep to defeat Queensland Reds 22-12 at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night, and they have three more games to play before they return to Brisbane for the first Test on June 22. But Gatland, pleased as he was to have seen his men handed a testing and rugged hit-out by the Reds, said after the game that he would be challenged to settle on his best side, and allow new combinations to jell. "To be honest, the tour is probably two matches too short for us and you would like a couple more warm-up matches going into that first Test," he said.
Gatland also said the physical nature of the battle against a free-running Queensland side would also take a toll in addition to the injuries the squad already knew about. Five-eighths Jonathan Sexton and Owen Farrell will be rested from the match against Combined Country in Newcastle on Tuesday, with a tight hamstring and a corked thigh respectively, while winger Tommy Bowe is clinging to a glimmer of hope after seeming set to follow injured props Gethin Jenkins and Cian Healy home with his broken right hand. Bowe underwent surgery on Sunday morning to have a plate inserted, and he may see him return in two weeks.
Warren Gatland was "very pleased" with his troops in Brisbane%]
Gatland had been expected to name a "dirt-track" side of back-ups to play Country, and reserve his best for the fixture against New South Wales Waratahs on Saturday, but he unveiled a host of likely Test starters including a three-quarters line of Welsh wingers George North and Alex Cuthbert plus dynamic centres Jamie Roberts and Brian O'Driscoll. His backrow of Irish duo Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip, and Welsh openside flanker Justin Tipuric, who is also pressuring skipper Sam Warburton, have been in top form and could also easily start on June 22.
"Some players have backed up this week [playing both the Reds and Western Force}, and we'll probably ask a few players to back up from Tuesday as well," Gatland said.
Tom Hamilton and Alex Broun review the Lions' efforts against Queensland Reds