War­bur­ton woe

Flanker ruled out of Wales’ au­tumn Tests due to neck surgery

The Guardian - Sport - - Front Page - Ger­ard Meagher

The Bri­tish & Ir­ish Lions cap­tain, Sam War­bur­ton, has been de­nied the op­por­tu­nity of a re­match with New Zealand in Novem­ber af­ter it was re­vealed he will be side­lined for four months be­cause of neck surgery and will miss Wales’s au­tumn in­ter­na­tion­als.

War­bur­ton, who led the Lions to a se­ries draw against the All Blacks in July, suf­fered a re­cur­rence of the long­stand­ing neck in­jury in train­ing for Cardiff Blues this week and scans have re­vealed the 28-year-old flanker re­quires surgery.

It is a blow for War­bur­ton, who over­came six weeks out with a knee in­jury to cap­tain the Lions in the sec­ond and third Tests against the All Blacks. He now faces an­other lengthy lay-off and will be in a race against time to be fit for next year’s Six Na­tions.

Un­like a num­ber of Pre­mier­ship Lions, War­bur­ton had sat out his side’s open­ing matches of the sea­son and the Blues had hoped an ex­tended break af­ter the se­ries against New Zealand would ben­e­fit the 79-cap flanker. The per­sis­tent neck in­jury that ruled War­bur­ton out of Wales’s heavy de­feat by Aus­tralia last au­tumn has proven dif­fi­cult to re­solve. “It’s a ma­jor blow for all con­cerned; it’s a blow for Cardiff Blues and Wales. We all hoped he would be back play­ing soon,” the Blues head coach, Danny Wil­son, said.

“It is a long­stand­ing is­sue that he has had. He gets pain and dis­com­fort on and off. The feel­ing was that two months off would help it set­tle com­pletely and do him a world of good. He came back feel­ing con­fi­dent about it. He went through the pro­to­cols when he came back to train­ing and dur­ing the con­tact el­e­ment, just on pads, it be­gan to flare up again.

“He is ob­vi­ously ex­tremely frus­trated. He thought that af­ter two months he would come back re­ally fresh and that is not the case, but this is the right thing for him to do. He’s a very good pro­fes­sional and I’m sure he will ap­ply him­self to his usual stan­dards.”

This au­tumn Wales, who in Jan­uary ap­pointed Alun Wyn Jones as cap­tain in War­bur­ton’s place, will host Aus­tralia, Ge­or­gia and South Africa as well as the All Blacks, who are due at the Prin­ci­pal­ity Sta­dium on 25 Novem­ber. In a cruel twist, the Welsh Rugby Union an­nounced that the fix­ture – in which War­ren Gat­land will re­new ri­val­ries with the world cham­pi­ons – had sold out hours be­fore War­bur­ton’s in­jury was re­vealed.

Gat­land now has a headache over his back row for the au­tumn, with Ross Mo­ri­arty still side­lined with the back in­jury picked up dur­ing the Lions tour and un­cer­tain of when he will re­turn. James Davies and El­lis Jenk­ins have al­ready been ruled out for the au­tumn cam­paign through in­jury while Thomas Young is yet to ap­pear for Wasps this sea­son.

Justin Tipuric is likely to con­tinue at open­side, hav­ing played there through­out the Six Na­tions, and the No8 Taulupe Fale­tau has made an im­pres­sive start to the sea­son with Bath, but it is un­clear who will wear the No6 jer­sey.

War­bur­ton has been be­set by in­juries in re­cent years and this is his sixth oper­a­tion. He has been plagued by shoul­der trou­ble, sus­tained a bro­ken cheek­bone last Septem­ber and suf­fered a ham­string in­jury dur­ing the 2013 Lions tour of Aus­tralia. In to­tal he has man­aged only 15 Celtic League ap­pear­ances for the Blues in the past two sea­sons but has re­peat­edly spo­ken of his de­sire to play at his third World Cup, in Ja­pan dur­ing 2019.

While Wales’s op­tions in the back row are now lim­ited, for the Blues, who have lost their open­ing two Pro14 matches, the sit­u­a­tion is worse, with Jenk­ins and James Botham side­lined. “We’re only two games into the sea­son but it has been well doc­u­mented we have nine first-team play­ers un­avail­able,” Wil­son added. “There’s one or two on their way back but you have to get on with it. It gives op­por­tu­ni­ties to de­velop young Welsh play­ers, which will help us in the fu­ture, but for now we need to get some of our high-end pros back on the pitch.”

David Lin­tott/Rex/Shutterstock

Sam War­bur­ton, cen­tre, cap­tained the Lions to a se­ries draw against the All Blacks this year

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