Lions’ fitness worries eased by Finn Russell return

Management also remain upbeat that Dan Biggar could be okay for second Test

Finn Russell returned to training for the British and Irish Lions on Monday. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Finn Russell returned to training for the British and Irish Lions on Monday. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho

 

Concerns over the British & Irish Lions stock of outhalves were greatly eased by Finn Russell’s return to full training on Monday.

Furthermore, the tourists’ management remain upbeat about the prospect of Dan Biggar completing his return to play protocols after departing from last Saturday’s first Test for a HIA without returning to the pitch.

Against that, contrary to initial indications when he was withdrawn from the starting lineup on the morning of the first Test, Wyn Jones is unlikely to be available for next Saturday’s second test in the Cape Town Stadium (kick-off 5pm).

Despite being down to two looseheads in Rory Sutherland and Mako Vunipola, the Lions will not be sending for reinforcements.

“Biggs is just going through the return to play protocols,” said defence coach Steven Tandy. “He was good in the changing room and he’s started those now. Finn is back in training this week. Wyn Jones has a minor shoulder injury and will probably be doubtful for the Test match. Those are the only concerns we have.

“Dan, all being well, should be available to train on Thursday and Finn will start to train with us today, so he could potentially be in the mix, to see how he pulls up. I know he’s been reacting well to the training so again we’ll discuss all that this evening.”

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Having reviewed the game 24 hours later, the Lions coaches will convene again on Monday night to finalise their selection for the second Test which has been brought forward to Tuesday morning. Tandy said the first Test performance will make this selection even harder.

“Definitely. As coaches you have got to challenge the selections you make and review. In fairness to the group, we talk all the time about how connected they are and good they are for each other. If you look at Tuesday’s session, what the non-starters brought to training was outstanding, they really stressed us on both ends of the ball which was really pleasing.

“I know it’s probably going off point, but you listen to the noise the non-starters make for the boys in an empty stadium; I think it shows the bond and connection of that team. The way we are performing in training, the way the boys performed in the previous games, it does make those selections tougher.

“I don’t think it’s an easy one tonight when we talk about it. You have lots of form from the boys that weren’t involved, and we’ve also just won a Test match in South Africa. To end a long winded answer, it’ll be difficult tonight.”

Meanwhile, the Springboks’ Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus has again taken to Twitter to highlight what he called “reckless and dangerous” play by the Lions.

To a clip of Cheslin Kolbe competing for a box kick with Ali Price and landing awkwardly over the touchline on his back, before Mako Vunipola pulls him up by the scruff of his jersey, Erasmus wrote: “Cheslin is obviously played in the air and clearly not direct into touch!!More importantly for youngsters watching this clip!!!! Please never move or touch an injured player on the ground, its reckless and dangerous!”

Asked about this, Tandy said: “Being a bit of a dinosaur myself and not being on Twitter and things, I’m hearing lots of hearsay. Ultimately it’s his viewpoint. We thought the officials did a really good job at the weekend and if there’s anything we need to bring up we’ll go through the appropriate channels.”

As to whether Erasmus might have been better advised to go through official channels than social media, Tandy said: “We have just got to look at ourselves and what we do. At the end of the day we have got to do our talking on the field and how we go about things. Rassie’s comments are his own comments and for us it is just about focussing on what we are and what we need to tidy up and making sure we are nice and clean about how we go about things.”

In any event, the Lions know they are facing wounded Boks next Saturday.

“South Africa are the world champions. They’ve put in performance after performance to win World Cups, from being able to recover from things, so we know how much of a physical team they are and how much pride they have in their performances.

“We know that South Africa will bring physicality, we know they’re a smart rugby team. But it’s about looking at ourselves and how we can improve and what we can bring to the second Test match also.”

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