Cian Healy could be sent home from Lions tour in shame over biting claim
Cian Healy, the British and Irish Lions prop forward widely predicted to mount a fierce challenge for a Test place against the Wallabies in a little over a fortnight's time, saw his hopes and dreams reduced to rubble on two fronts after a soul-destroying spell of rugby against the Australian Super 15 team Western Force.
Healy left the field on a stretcher after suffering a nasty ankle injury, and was then cited for an alleged biting offence. The 25-year-old loose-head specialist from Dublin faces a disciplinary hearing in Brisbane after today's long flight from one side of the country to the other.
Tomorrow, he will have a hospital scan to determine the extent of ligament damage caused when he fell awkwardly in a tackle by the flanker Angus Cottrell. If the hearing goes against him, his tour will be over before the medical results are received.
Even if he is acquitted of the biting charge laid against him by the South African citing commissioner Freek Burger, there is every possibility that he will find himself on an early flight home. Healy's face was a study in agony as he fell to the floor in Cottrell's tackle and the Lions medics were quick to summon reinforcements so the 17st 9lb front-rower could be carried off.
Lions officials were so downbeat about the Irishman's prospects of continuing the tour that they immediately sent word to Argentina to summon the England prop Alex Corbisiero as a replacement. Corbisiero has only just returned from long-term injury, but is highly regarded by Warren Gatland, the head coach of the tour party.
Expected to play for his country against Argentina at altitude in Salta this weekend, the highly skilled Northampton-bound forward now has an opportunity to reach even greater heights.
"We need to get Alex over here as quickly as possible," said Gatland, who wants Corbisiero to join up with the squad before their departure from Brisbane on Sunday and then challenge the experienced Wales prop Gethin Jenkins and the fast-developing England loosehead Mako Vunipola for a Test role.
For his part the England coach, Stuart Lancaster, was in characteristically generous spirits after being told he was losing his most able prop just ahead of the meeting with the Pumas – a team renowned for their front-row expertise. "We're delighted for him," said Lancaster, who is hardly the first man in his position to lose an important player to the Lions. "He goes with our blessing."
Healy is accused of assaulting the Force scrum-half Brett Sheehan, a spiky character who had raised the temperature of the build-up to the fixture by expressing his desire for an "extremely physical game", in the 17th minute of a one-sided contest in which the Lions scored nine tries in their 69-17 victory.
The match was stopped by Glen Jackson, the New Zealand referee, when Sheehan complained of being bitten at a ruck. Jackson consulted the television official, Glenn Newman, but the immediate investigation yielded nothing in the way of hard evidence and no action was taken.
Afterwards, the Western Force hierarchy showed no interest in pursuing the matter. "It's been left on the field and we don't need to talk about it any more," said Michael Foley, the head coach. But Sheehan was asked for a statement by the citing officer, who made his decision some four hours later.
Max Duthie, a lawyer who is travelling with the Lions, was preparing to represent Healy, who will face a minimum ban of three months if found guilty of the offence.
One difficulty with any mitigation plea is the three-week suspension that Healy picked up for stamping on Dan Cole, the England prop and his front-row colleague in the game, during the Six Nations match in Ireland in February.
Meanwhile, the Lions staff were waiting to hear if a second player, the Munster scrum-half Conor Murray, would be cited. Murray was being investigated for a possible stamp on the Western Force centre Ed Stubbs, who, ironically enough, was sent to the sin bin for ball-killing in the same incident.
Belfast Telegraph Digital