One of Australia’s leading locks faces a race against time to be match fit to feature against the Lions this summer.
Hugh McMeniman is in the running for a Wallaby spot when Britain and Ireland’s elite come calling but a shoulder injury could leave him with too much ground to make up before the opening Test in Brisbane on June 22.
McMeniman suffered the setback while on Super Rugby duty with the Force as he collided with Rebels prop Nick Henderson in Perth last weekend.
Scans have since revealed a fracture to his left shoulder, with the 29-year-old expected to be sidelined for six weeks as a result.
That length of absence would leave McMeniman with just a single comeback game against the Highlanders on May 25 before the Wallaby training camp begins in early June.
Australia head coach Robbie Deans intends to bring a 25-man squad together three weeks before the first Test at the Suncorp Stadium, with his star players effectively quarantined until the series kicks off 11-and-a-half weeks from now.
Current form suggests that McMeniman is a serious contender for a spot in the 25 and his upcoming absence will be a big blow for Deans and co as they look to decide on their best second-row combination.
McMeniman, who signed a contract extension with the Force earlier this week, has been one of the most impressive performers across all five Australian Super XV franchises so far this season as he celebrated his return from a three-year spell in Japan in some style.
He was immediately recalled to a 49-man Wallaby squad before the current campaign had even begun and has paid Deans back for his faith by jointly topping the Aussie ball-carrying charts and acting as a hugely reliable lineout jumper despite the fact that his new side are struggling results wise.
McMeniman won the last of his 21 Test caps back in 2008 having headed to the Kubota Spears a year later but his impressive return and the lack of clarity in the Wallaby second row was leading plenty of people to tip him for at least a squad spot against the Lions.
Wallaby skipper and first-choice lock James Horwill has only just returned from injury but is expected to start at the Suncorp, yet the name of his second-row partner is very much up in the air.
Nathan Sharpe was an outstanding servant to Australian Rugby for a more than a century of Tests but his decision to finally call it a day at the end of 2012 leaves a big gap in the Wallaby boilerhouse. Dan Vickerman was another stalwart with the potential to join Horwill in the Test team but his injury-enforced retirement means experience is at a premium when it comes to second row contenders.
The Wallabies' horrific run of injuries may have seen a host of youngsters and Test newcomers step into the limelight over the past year but McMeniman’s previous performances on the big stage and his fine start with the Force had thrust him into the limelight once more
Waratahs duo Sitaleki Timani and Kane Douglas are the front runners to star alongside Horwill, but McMeniman already looked to have surged his way past the likes of Cadeyrn Neville, Hugh Pyle and Rob Simmons in the Wallaby pecking order.