THE GRADE ONE hamstring tear that has ruled Rob Kearney out of Wednesday’s tour game against Western Force may not see him feature until the Waratahs match up on 15 June.
The Irish fullback would then have just one start and a likely sub’s appearance to force his way into contention for the Test side. A Grade One tear is the least damaging of the three grades of tearing but usually needs two-three weeks of recovery time.
Kearney, one of the outstanding Lions on the 2009 tour to South Africa, trained with he squad in Perth this afternoon but was restricted by ball work and catching duties.
Head coach Warren Gatland commented, “We got to see how he responds [to treatment] but have got to be potentially prepared as that hamstring injury might not heal as quickly as we, or I, would like and we’ve to put some other potential plans in place for that.”
He added, “He is a little bit of a concern for us at the moment, to be honest.”
Kearney fields a high ball in training. (©INPHO/Dan Sheridan)
Leigh Halfpenny, the favourite to start at fullback against Australia on 22 June, will be handed the 15 jersey for the match against Western Force, with Scotland’s Sean Maitland on the bench to cover the wing and fullback roles.
The Lions medical staff will have markers in place to assess whether Kearney’s recovery is on track. If the tear does not heal as quickly as hoped or, in a worst case scenario, deteriorates, a replacement may be needed.
The likely candidates would include Simon Zebo, another player, like Maitland, that can cover the wing and fullback slots. Zebo started for Ireland at fullback in the home Tests against South Africa and Argentina.
The tempting call for Gatland, should Kearney fail to recover in time, is to get Welsh utility back James Hook. The 27-year-old, who faced the Lions with the Barbarians on Saturday, has played 11 of his 70 international caps at fullback and toured with the Lions in 2009.
The other options would be Lee Byrne [Clermont and Wales], Alex Goode [Saracens and England], and Ian Madigan [Leinster and Ireland]. It will be the weekend before an informed decision on Kearney’s progress can be made but Gatland will be hoping that the news is positive and a vital squad member can remain on tour.