Tomás O’Leary was a contender for the Lions tour to Australia before he suffered a season-ending back injury, according to his boss at London Irish, Brian Smith.
The former Munster scrum-half has been ruled out for up to six months after undergoing surgery to resolve a disc problem in his lower back that has seen him sidelined since late October.
And Smith believes the 29-year-old, who moved to London Irish this summer, was playing well enough to earn a recall to the Ireland side and claim a place in the Lions squad.
O’Leary was selected for the 2009 Lions tour to South Africa but suffered a broken ankle playing for Munster against Scarlets a month before the three-Test trip. He has not been able to rediscover his best form since that injury and has not started for Ireland since the World Cup warm-up against France in August 2011 — a game in which he threw a woeful intercept pass that cost him a place in Declan Kidney’s final squad.
But Warren Gatland, the Lions head coach, was an assistant to Ian McGeechan four years ago, and Smith believes the New Zealander was certain to consider O’Leary.
“The Lions have a history of picking players who may not necessarily be playing for their country at that current time,” Smith told the Irish Examiner.
“I would have thought the fact that Tomás was one of the early selections for the Lions last time round means that Warren Gatland clearly has a very healthy respect for his ability. I am sure that whatever the scrum-half shortlist was, his name would have been on it.’’
But while Smith admits he is devastated for O’Leary, he has backed the Cork-born star to make a full recovery.
“The thing with surgery is that there is no messing about, and we have decided to take our medicine now than have him playing half-fit through the season. We expect him to make a full recovery.”
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