British & Irish Lions
Croft gets call up as Quinlan appeal fails
May 20, 2009

Tom Croft has been called into the British and Irish Lions squad after Alan Quinlan failed with an appeal against a 12-week suspension.

In a busy day for Lions management, hooker Jerry Flannery suffered a tour-ending elbow injury in training and winger/fullback Leigh Halfpenny was ruled out of the early part of the trip to South Africa with a thigh injury.

Munster back-row forward Quinlan was banned for making contact with the eye area of Leinster captain Leo Cullen in the Heineken Cup semi-final on May 2. Lions head coach Ian McGeechan telephoned Croft this evening and also contacted England manager Martin Johnson.

Lions manager Gerald Davies said, "As a result of the appeal panel's decision this afternoon, Ian and the management team have selected Tom Croft to replace Alan Quinlan."

Quinlan exercised his right to appeal but an independent appeal committee today found no reason to alter the original verdict or punishment. An ERC statement read, "The committee found that Alan Quinlan had not demonstrated the original decision had been in error or that it should be overturned or varied. Accordingly the appeal committee dismissed the appeal and upheld the suspension imposed on the player of 12 weeks."

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 have finally been ended following the appeal decision in Glasgow today.

The Irishman did not join the Lions at their camp in Bagshot, Surrey on Monday when head coach Ian McGeechan indicated a replacement had been identified although management refused to be drawn on the player's name - preferring to let the judicial process takes its course.

McGeechan sympathised with Quinlan, a surprise pick in the original squad, but insisted the rangier and more athletic Croft would offer a new dimension to the back row. With just 11 caps Croft is still a Test rookie but the 23-year-old had a major impact in the latter stages of the Six Nations and was considered desperately unlucky to miss out on initial Lions selection.

"When you have a squad of 37 there are always going to be some close calls and Tom fit into that category," said McGeechan. "I rang Tom and spoke to him and he said yes. I also put in a courtesy call to Martin Johnson before that just to let him know.

"Tom brings speed and his line-out ability to the squad. We can look at developing his role in the back row. His presence is another string to our bow. I'm very disappointed Quinlan will have to miss out on a Lions tour but Tom is a young buck with a lot of talent. He gives us something different."

McGeechan has already been stripped of scrum-half Tomas O'Leary (ankle) and centre Tom Shanklin (shoulder) through injury. Scotland No.9 Mike Blair has been added to the tour party however no replacement for Shanklin was chosen with McGeechan opting to travel with a 36-man squad.

In addition, Wales fullback/winger Leigh Halfpenny will not travel to South Africa on Sunday in order to undergo treatment on an existing thigh injury. The injury has proven more serious than originally thought, with Lions doctors confirming that it requires 10-14 days worth of treatment. The Lions are also poised to announce a replacement for Halfpenny, although the winger will rejoin the party once he has returned to fitness.

The Lions will be looking for a replacement not only to cover Halfpenny's position on the wing and, potentially, at fullback, but his goalkicking. Fly-halves Ronan O'Gara and Stephen Jones are the only recognised goal-kickers in the squad, with Riki Flutey a part-time option at best.

England fullback Delon Armitage missed the chance of a call-up when the Lions opted not to replace Shanklin but his name will return to the frame. The retiring Josh Lewsey is on the standby list and would offer cover on the wing and the centre, though he is not a goal-kicker, while Scotland's Chris Paterson is also a possibility.

The latest injury blow was confirmed this evening with Flannery becoming the latest player to be ruled out of this summer's trip to South Africa. The combative Ireland hooker suffered a chipped bone in his left elbow during training this afternoon.

A scan revealed the extent of the damage and Flannery requires surgery that will prevent him from departing with the rest of the squad on Sunday.


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