Keith Earls, the centre whose nervous debut performance encapsulated an unconvincing showing from the British & Irish Lions in their tour opener, looks set to be ruled out of contention for the game against the Golden Lions on Wednesday. The Ireland centre, who dropped a succession of straight-forward passes and high balls early on, suffered shoulder joint trouble during the 37-25 victory over a Royal XV in Rustenburg and is unlikely to feature in Johannesburg.
Rob Howley, the Lions assistant coach, revealed Earls' mental rehabilitation from a chastening debut was already underway. "The Lions badge and jersey can make you do funny things," said Howley. "Keith will be a much better player from the experience." James Robson, the Lions team doctor, reported other members of the squad were suffering from "bumps and bruises". Scrum-half Mike Blair rolled his ankle, centre Ricky Flutey missed training yesterday because of a slight strain, while skipper Paul O'Connell required anaesthetic drops to an eye abrasion.
Ronan O'Gara took a bang on his shoulder, Mike Phillips is progressing well from a dead leg and mountainous prop Andrew Sheridan has blisters on his feet. Robson, meanwhile, gave an encouraging assessment of two players who missed the Royal XV encounter through injury. Ireland flanker Stephen Ferris is now fit after bizarrely suffering a leg muscle strain getting off the team bus. Meanwhile, Andy Powell, the buccaneering No 8, was back in the gym yesterday after recovering from a hand injury.
The Lions medical team remain hopeful that Leigh Halfpenny, the rookie winger, is on course to link up with the squad. Halfpenny stayed at home when the Lions flew out last Sunday in order to have intensive treatment on a thigh injury. Robson added: "Leigh is doing very well, by all accounts." Meanwhile, Jake White, the coach who won the 2007 World Cup with South Africa, was alarmed at the Lions performance on Saturday.
"One concern for Ian McGeechan and the coaching staff was that was almost their Test pack," said White. "The way they played was by no means good enough to take on a Springbok pack of forwards in the first Test." * With agencies