Flannery out of Lions tour

Thu, May 21, 2009, 01:00

The curse which has afflicted Munster since the announcement of the Lions squad continues apace, with Jerry Flannery the latest casualty. On foot of their record eight-man representation, not alone did Munster lose their European crown to Leinster and see Tomás O’Leary and Alan Quinlan miss out on the tour to South Africa through injury and suspension, but yesterday Flannery sustained a chipped bone in his left elbow which has ruled him out of the tour as well.

The 30-year-old was rushed to hospital for X-rays after sustaining the injury while training with the Lions squad in Bagshot. The scan confirmed the extent of the damage, and the injury will require surgery. This prompted the Lions management to rule Flannery out of the tour last night, thereby reducing Munster’s original contingent of eight to five.

The hard-as-nails, two-time Heineken Cup winner had been having the best season of his career as an integral part of Ireland’s first Grand Slam-winning team in 61 years and was probably playing the best rugby of his life as well. Even in Munster’s semi-final defeat to Leinster he was the outgoing European Cup holders’ best player, with a host of carries and accurate throws. Flannery looked set to claim the starting number two jersey in the first Test against the Springboks.

The only shaft of light for a rapidly dwindling Irish contingent, initially a record 14, is that Rory Best has emerged as the early favourite to replace the Munster man. Best, who is due to captain Ireland for the first time against Canada in Vancouver this Saturday, had been vying with Flannery for the Irish hooking berth all season and is arguably a better all-round hooker than Wales’ Matthew Rees.

The other contenders would be Scotland’s Ross Ford and the English pair of Dylan Hartley and George Chuter, but Best would seem to be the favourite to benefit from Flannery’s misfortune.

As expected, Alan Quinlan’s appeal against his 12-week suspension was dismissed in Glasgow yesterday. He has been replaced by England’s Tom Croft.

The 34-year-old Munster and Ireland flanker will not be eligible to play again until September 10th and is thus definitely ruled out of the tour to South Africa.

“I’m desperately disappointed,” Quinlan admitted last night after going through an emotional ringer since the fateful Heineken Cup semi-final against Leinster when video evidence highlighted the incident in which he was found to have made contact with the eye area of Leo Cullen.

“I suppose I was more shocked and disappointed the first day, but it would have been the chance of a lifetime and a dream come true to play for the Lions. I just have to deal with it and move on now.”

The Lions head coach, Ian McGeechan, last night sympathised with Quinlan but insisted the athletic Croft would offer a new dimension to the backrow.

After a three-hour hearing, in which Michael McGrath, senior counsel, and Quinlan’s solicitor, former Munster and Irish backrower Donal Spring, argued passionately on Quinlan’s behalf, an ERC statement said: “The independent appeal committee, chaired by Professor Lorne Crerar (Scotland) and also comprising Rod McKenzie (Scotland) and HHJ Jeff Blackett (England), found that Alan Quinlan had not demonstrated that the original decision had been in error, or that it should be overturned or varied, and accordingly the appeal committee dismissed the appeal and upheld the suspension imposed on the player of twelve (12) weeks.”

Essentially, it was solely the video evidence which ultimately condemned Quinlan. There had been no complaint from Leo Cullen or Leinster, there was no evidence of any injury and both disciplinary committees accepted Quinlan’s actions were neither intentional nor constituted eye-gouging.

Meanwhile, the Lions management will make a decision today on a replacement for Leigh Halfpenny, who will remain in Cardiff for treatment on a thigh injury.