British & Irish Lios
Quinlan ruled out of Lions tour
May 13, 2009
Alan Quinlan's Lions tour is over before it has begun after being handed a hefty 12-week ban © Getty Images
Alan Quinlan will miss the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa after being banned for 12 weeks.
Munster flanker Quinlan was found guilty of making contact with the eye area of Leinster skipper Leo Cullen during a Heineken Cup semi-final at Croke Park on May 1. Quinlan's suspension means he is sidelined until until September 10 - more than two months after the Lions tour ends. Rugby's summer-off season is not included in the period he cannot play.
The Ireland international has a right of appeal, but Lions head coach Ian McGeechan must now consider a replacement. Leicester and England flanker Tom Croft is favourite.
Quinlan, 34, becomes the third player selected in a 37-man Lions squad last month to be ruled out. Quinlan's Munster colleague, scrum-half Tomas O'Leary, broke his ankle three days after the party was announced and has subsequently been replaced by Scotland skipper Mike Blair.
Wales centre Tom Shanklin then suffered a serious shoulder injury - like O'Leary, he was also on Magners League duty - and faces four months out. Shanklin's replacement has not yet been announced.
Quinlan, capped 27 times by Ireland and man of the match when Munster beat Toulouse in last season's Heineken Cup final, had won a Lions call-up partly due to his abrasive, no-nonsense playing style. But his tour hopes ended following an appearance before a three-man independent disciplinary panel, chaired by Welshman Roger Morris, in Dublin today.
Quinlan was reported by match citing commissioner John Byett following the Cullen incident, which had been graphically captured on television slow motion replays.
The panel, which also comprised Morris' fellow Welshman Simon Morris and England's Mike Hamlin, decided Quinlan was guilty of Law 10.4 (an act contrary to good sportsmanship) in that he made contact with Cullen's eye area. At the end of a lengthy hearing, the panel decided Quinlan's offence was at the low-range of the level of seriousness for such an offence, and banned him from today until September 10.
McGeechan's Lions squad assemble in Surrey next Monday. They fly to Johannesburg six days later, and play their opening game against a Royal XV in Rustenburg on May 30. The 10-match trip culminates with three Tests against world champions South Africa in Durban (June 20), Pretoria (June 27) and Johannesburg (July 4).
If Quinlan decides to appeal, it is likely any hearing would take place within the next week.
Croft, the 23-year-old Leicester forward capped 13 times by England, was considered incredibly unfortunate to miss out on Lions selection. He starred for England during the latter stages of this season's Six Nations campaign, and was man of the match when they crushed France 34-10 at Twickenham.
Lions forwards coach Warren Gatland admitted publicly that Croft was probably the unluckiest player to be a victim of the initial selection process. And that fact has been underlined by his continued outstanding form for Leicester in their bid for a domestic and European double.
Croft will be a key part of Tigers' Guinness Premiership title push on Saturday when they meet first-time finalists London Irish at Twickenham. And seven days later he will head north to Edinburgh, where Leicester tackle Irish challengers Leinster in this season's Heineken Cup final.
"Whatever happens, happens but I am looking forward to the final. I can honestly say that because I am at Leciester, I am not thinking about it," Croft told The Daily Telegraph. "I am sure if I was at a club that hadn't made it to finals and was now sitting on a beach now then I would be thinking about it but even to be considered for a Lions squad is one of my biggest achievements. Even to be mentioned along with the players that are going is massive."
It will be a major surprise if Croft now does not win a belated Lions call - albeit in unusual circumstances - although other candidates would include Wales captain Ryan Jones.
Jones, tipped as a possible Lions skipper last year after he led Wales to a Six Nations title and Grand Slam, suffered from an uncharacteristic form loss this season, meaning he featured among the Lions squad's high-profile absentees. But he has recently started to rediscover his A-game, and was named earlier this week as skipper for Wales' two-Test summer tour that begins against Canada in Toronto on May 30, and continues against the USA seven days later.
The Lions management could announce replacements for both Shanklin and Quinlan by the end of this week.