Lions breathe a sigh of relief

Lee Byrne, Harry Ellis and Rob Kearney were among a host of players to give the Lions selectors cause for concern on Saturday afternoon, but all three should still be available for this summers' tour of South Africa. [more]

Lions breathe a sigh of relief

Lee Byrne, Harry Ellis and Rob Kearney were among a host of players to give the Lions selectors cause for concern on Saturday afternoon, but all three should still be available for this summers’ tour of South Africa.

The in-form trio all suffered match-ending injuries during the final round of the Six Nations but each player is expected to be back in action sooner rather than later.

Leicester scrum-half Ellis left the Twickenham pitch after just 20 minutes of his side’s win over Scotland after knocking himself unconscious in a tackle on Simon Danielli.

Play was halted for seven or eight minutes while a total of 10 paramedics and stretcher bearers dealt with the incident before Ellis finally got to his feet.

What looked to be a serious injury that might drastically reduce his chances of playing in club colours again this season is now not likely to have long-term effects.

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England team manager Martin Johnson explained that his former Tigers team-mate had received stitches to a gash behind his ear thanks to what he described as ‘a big bang to the head’ but Ellis remains very much in the frame for a place in Ian McGeechan’s soon-to-be-named Lions squad.

The 26-year-old started every game for his country during the tournament, despite not originally being named in the matchday 22 for the opening clash with Italy. Injury to Danny Care gave Ellis a chance to impress and he did just that, scoring a brace of tries against the Azzuri and producing a series of bright performances across all five fixtures.

Elsewhere, the battle of two of the Home Unions’ finest full backs ended in disappointment as both Byrne and Kearney failed to see out 80 minutes in a thrilling encounter between Wales and Ireland in Cardiff.

Byrne, who has been in superb form for the past 12 months, left the field with 10 minutes of the first-half remaining after injuring tendons in his left foot, while Kearney departed in the second period to be replaced by 2005 Lion Geordan Murphy.

Neither knock is expected to be too serious, however, and both players remain in the mix for the mouth-watering three-match series with the Springboks in June and July of this year.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland immediately allayed fears that Byrne would be struggling to return to action by the start of the tour, saying that he expected the Ospreys star to take just a week or two to recover from the injury. Reaction to the injury 24 hours after the Wales versus Ireland match has suggested Byrne could be sidelined for up to four weeks but, whichever prognosis is nearer to the truth, Byrne is almost certain to remain in McGeechan’s thoughts.

The likes of England prop Phil Vickery and Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris were also early casualties during the weekend’s action but, again, both players are expected to make a full recovery before McGeechan names his touring party towards the end of next month.

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