The British & Irish Lions will be without their captain, Sam Warburton, for the decisive final Test in Sydney on Saturday.
The Wales flanker has been ruled out with a "significant tear" of his left hamstring, clearing the way for Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll to lead the side on his final Lions appearance.
Confirmation of Warburton's absence was widely anticipated but does represent another blow for the Lions, who have already seen three other key forwards, Paul O'Connell, Cian Healy and Gethin Jenkins, ruled out of the tour through injury. It leaves the head coach, Warren Gatland, with a back-row selection conundrum as he prepares to finalise his starting XV for the third Test in the wake of last weekend's 16-15 defeat in Melbourne.
Gatland has assorted options, all of which involve perming three from Tom Croft, Dan Lydiate, Justin Tipuric, Sean O'Brien, Jamie Heaslip and Toby Faletau. Tipuric, who has not featured in the first two Tests, is a specialist openside and must be a good bet to start with Lydiate, O'Brien or Croft at blindside. Heaslip has played in both the first two Tests but is under increasing pressure from Faletau for his starting place.
The Lions, seeking their first series win anywhere since 1997, unquestionably need more ball-carrying power but, as yet, are still waiting to discover whether Alex Corbisiero and Jamie Roberts will be fully fit for selection. Richard Hibbard is also pushing hard at hooker and scrum-half Mike Phillips is available after sitting out the second Test. Manu Tuilagi is another candidate for Gatland to consider before the scheduled team announcement on Wednesday.
Warburton, meanwhile, is understandably downcast, having enjoyed his most effective game of the tour in Melbourne. "It is incredibly disappointing to be ruled out of the tour," the 24-year-old said. "I wish the team all the best and hope I can play some part in the build-up this week. I am confident the boys can finish the job off and secure the series win." He added that he still felt "privileged and fortunate to have lived my Lions dream".
The Lions at least have a ready-made international captain to pick up the reins in the shape of O'Driscoll, with the only other realistic candidate, Alun Wyn Jones, available to act as pack leader. The Irish centre, on his fourth successive tour, has not yet enjoyed his most fruitful series but remains a class act with the respect of both his team-mates and the opposition. Having been invalided out of the 2005 series in the opening minutes of the first Test against the All Blacks he also has unfinished business as Lions captain.
O'Driscoll has already led the Lions on this tour against the Western Force and the Combined Country XV. This weekend is set to be his ninth Test for the Lions but he has yet to be involved in a winning series, having been a member of the 2001 squad narrowly beaten by an Australian side who fought back strongly having lost the first Test.
As the Lions were coming to terms with having to pick a new captain for the final Test, Australia were buoyed after finding out their on-field leader, James Horwill, had been cleared to play in Saturday's decider.
The International Rugby Board's appeal for his alleged stamp on Alun-Wyn Jones, overseen by independent appeal officer Graeme Mew, was not upheld, ensuring the original decision to exonerate Horwill stands.
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