Warren Gatland will name his 2017 British and Irish Lions squad for the summer tour of New Zealand in exactly one week and along with it, his pick for the role of captain.
Looking to repeat the heroics of four years ago in Australia, Gatland will have be faced with the prospect of taking on the double-defending world champions on their home soil.
The ability, therefore, to be able to chose the very best the home nations have to offer will be key for Lions boss, something that until very recently seemed like a formality.
Now, with injuries to veritable shoo-ins mounting, naming a 37-man panel is quickly becoming a trickier affair and following a weekend of domestic rugby, it just got a whole lot harder.
The sight of Sam Warburton hobbling off the field on Friday immediately sparked fears for his involvement in the tour this summer. Scans revealed a medial ligament injury which has ruled him out for the rest of regular season and will see him returning to fitness just in time to hop onto the plane to New Zealand.
Despite this, the Telegraph reports that the Welshman is still expected to be named Lions captain, ahead of the likes of Alun Wyn Jones and Rory Best.
Diagnosed as a “grade two medial ligament strain”, Warburton is now in a race to regain fitness ahead of the tour and at best, will only have a single game in which to prove his readiness to take on the best New Zealand have to offer during the ten match tour.
Following the confirmation of the knee injury, Cardiff Blues head coach Danny Wilson is reportedly confident the injury lay off will not affect Warburton’s Lions tour,
“Sam has a low-grade medial strain which will put him out for approximately six weeks.
“It won’t interfere with the Lions. If we were fortunate enough to make the second European play-off game, we would envisage him being available for that. So he shouldn’t have any problems regarding the Lions.
“You see players who get back quickly if they follow protocol religiously and get a bit of luck and I am sure that will be the case with Sam, knowing how diligent he will be. We will see then how quickly he can get back.”
Fans will be hoping Wilson’s optimism is not ill-founded and that the six week estimate does not drag into seven or eight. Were that to happen, summer rugby for Warburton become a far less certain thing, let alone as captain.
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena