Warren Gatland effectively ruled Sean O’Brien out of Leinster’s RaboDirect Pro 12 final against Ulster on Saturday when he said the Ireland flanker would not be fit for the British and Irish Lions for at least another two weeks.
Yet in a twist last night the Lions issued a statement saying O’Brien, after an evening check-up, was in better condition than the tourists had thought although did not suggest any change in his time frame for recovery.
O’Brien suffered bruising to his knee during the second half of Leinster’s Amlin Challenge Cup final victory over Stade Francais at the RDS last Friday and Leinster’s squad bulletin issued yesterday classed the back row merely as in ‘injury concern’.
Around the same time yesterday afternoon Lions head coach Gatland said he did not foresee him playing until the second or third game of the tour. But in a statement released last night the Lions said O’Brien had been examined in consultation with Leinster’s medical staff and Lions head doctor James Robson said: “Given the proximity to the tour we are grateful for Leinster for being able to assess Sean. He is in better condition than we thought as he continues his recovery at pace.”
With the Lions opening their tour in Hong Kong against the Barbarians on June 1, O’Brien could make his Lions debut on Australian soil against Western Force in Perth on Wednesday, June 5 or against the Queensland Reds in Brisbane the following Saturday.
“He’s not fit to play for Leinster, and in saying that he’s probably a couple of weeks,” Gatland said yesterday. “With a bit of luck by the second or third game on tour he should be up and running. The idea with him this week is to see the medics and just take a little bit of pressure off the Leinster medical staff as well. I think that will be good for him as well.”
Gatland is unlikely to use any of the players involved in the Rabo final or the Aviva Premiership final until the game in Perth. To the New Zealander that presents a double-edged sword in terms of preparing his squad to take on the Wallabies.
“From a squad point of view it was a bonus that Saracens got knocked out [by Northampton in the semi-finals], which meant two or three more players available to us,” Gatland said.
“It’s hard because you want all the players available, but if those two teams win their respective finals, then you’ve got a group of players coming into the squad on a high with a lot of confidence and a lot of self-belief, and often that’s hugely positive to a team.
“When you bring a squad together you notice a big difference between players coming from successful, winning environments compared to those from environments that aren’t quite to successful.
“If those two teams happen to win the finals, I think it would be hugely positive for the squad.”
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