BRITISH and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland insists the late inclusion of England back Billy Twelvetrees is not designed to cover a specific injury concern, despite doubts over the fitness of the squad’s fly-halves with just over a week to go until the first Test in Australia.
No10s Jonny Sexton and Owen Farrell missed Tuesday’s 64-0 demolition of a Combined Country XV, while centre Manu Tuilagi picked up a knock in Saturday’s win over Queensland Reds.
It leaves the Lions backline depleted, but Gatland insists the decision to fly Twelvetrees from Buenos Aires, where he was playing in England’s two-Test series against Argentina, to Sydney last night was purely precautionary.
“The nature of a Lions tour means that there will inevitably be knocks which take time to recover from,” he said.
“The whole squad have worked hard, but a lot of the backs have doubled up over the last two games, either starting or from the bench.
“Billy played well in the first Test for England and he provides that versatility to cover a variety of positions.”
The Lions are back in action on Saturday against the New South Wales Waratahs, who themselves will be disastrously depleted with 16 senior players missing.
The frailty of their latest opponent adds to questions over how useful the tour matches have been for the Lions, after their midweek win came against a side which included several part-time players.
However, Waratahs winger Drew Mitchell insists his team is under no obligation to ready the Lions for their Test series.
“I don’t care about the Lions lead-up,” said Mitchell, who will join Heineken Cup winners Toulon later this year. “This is a big opportunity for the Waratahs. We’re not here to help them prepare to play against the Wallabies.
“Their preparation is for them to decide. We are here to test ourselves.”
Cian Healy (ankle), Gethin Jenkins (calf)
Alex Corbisiero, Ryan Grant, Simon Zebo, Billy Twelvetrees
Current injury worries
Tommy Bowe (hand), Rob Kearney (hamstring), Manu Tuilagi (shoulder), Owen Farrell (dead leg), Jonny Sexton (hamstring)