Sam Warburton is expected to be named captain of the British & Irish Lions squad next Wednesday, despite sustaining a knee injury that could leave him with just one game before the tourists depart for New Zealand.
The Wales flanker underwent a scan on Tuesday on the injury that forced him off during Cardiff Blues’ 24-24 draw in the Pro12 against Ulster at Ravenhill last Friday night and the results confirmed that he faces up to six weeks on the sidelines.
The 28 year-old sustained a “low-grade medial strain”, which will effectively bring a premature end to his domestic season unless the Blues reach the European Champions Cup qualification play-off final on May 26.
Danny Wilson, the Blues head coach, said he expected Warburton would be available for that match if his side qualify, which would at least give the flanker game time before the squad depart for New Zealand three days later.
“Sam has a low-grade medial strain which will put him out for approximately six weeks,” said Wilson. “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.”
Lions head coach Warren Gatland will name his 37-man squad on April 19 and Warburton, who was an inspirational captain during the Test-series victory over Australia in 2013, is the leading contender to take the role again following his impressive form in the Six Nations Championship.
Warburton will not require any medical procedures as he has not suffered a tear of any ligaments, so he will be able to continue with his conditioning work while he undergoes rehabilitation.
While the injury will disrupt the pre-tour preparations, it is unlikely that the setback will alter Gatland’s selections plans unless there are any further complications.
“It was low grade and that was the important bit,” Wilson said. “Sam is very experienced and a good pro. He knows his body and knows if he works hard to get that right he will be back relatively quickly.
“He has been fine today. I think it’s relatively good news considering how it could have been.”
Mike Phillips, the former Wales and Lions scrum-half, is to retire at the end of the season. The 34-year-old Sale Sharks scrum-half won two Grand Slams with Wales and made 99 Test appearances, five of them on two Lions tours.
Kelly Brown, the former Scotland captain, has also confirmed this will be his last season. The Saracens flanker was capped 64 times by Scotland and captained his country 14 times between 2012 and 2014.
Brown, who has won three Premiership titles and last season’s Champions Cup with Saracens, is to become an academy coach at the club next season.
David Perry, the former England captain, has died at the age of 79. A former No 8 with Bedford, he was capped 15 times for England, including in the 1965 Five Nations Championship.