Australia’s preparations for their three-match Test series against the British and Irish Lions suffered a blow with their latest announcement concerning a spate of withdrawals.
Flanker Scott Higginbotham, lock Sitaleki Timani and flying winger Digby Ioane have all withdrawn from the Wallabies 25-man training squad, with the hosts 6/5 to emerge victorious from the first Test in Brisbane on June 22.
They remain the underdogs for the series opener and the news that Timani will be ruled out for the duration of the Tour with a thumb injury will do little to raise aspirations.
Ioane, who was likely to miss the curtain raiser against the Lions anyway, appeared a certainty to be one of the first names on the Australian teamsheet and his absence will be acutely felt.
His knee injury is still under observation following surgery while Higginbotham’s recuperation in the interim will take place as he continues to nurse a dislocated shoulder.
And while Ioane would have added a vital injection of pace to the Australian side, it’s perhaps the loss of the physical presences of Timani and Higginbotham that could prove to be more crucial.
Welsh duo Mike Phillips and Jamie Roberts were imperious in the Lions’ recent 59-8 trouncing of the Barbarians and Warren Gatland’s side look good value to justify their 4/6 favouritism in the first Test.
Without the likes of Melbourne Rebels captain Higginbotham, an impressive performer during the current Super Rugby campaign, the Australian pack could be vulnerable against a feisty Lions front-line.
The visitors were triumphant in their previous opening Test match against Australia – also in Brisbane back in 2001 – and the 8/13 for the Lions to win the series gets ever more appealing as their opponents continue to suffer bad luck with injuries.
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