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Ulsterman McCall in line for Lions NZ tour coaching role


Major role: Mark McCall is in the Lions reckoning

Major role: Mark McCall is in the Lions reckoning

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Major role: Mark McCall is in the Lions reckoning

Warren Gatland will name his assistant coaches for the British and Irish Lions 2017 tour to New Zealand in Dublin this afternoon with speculation rife over a possible big-name addition to the ticket.

Soon-to-be Scotland coach Gregor Townsend has already  ruled out taking on the job of attack coach with rumours swirling that former Ulster captain and coach Mark McCall could now be one of the names under consideration.

Other mooted possibilities include former Fiji sevens coach Ben Ryan or the man who filled the role in 2013, Rob Howley.

Ireland defence coach Andy Farrell is expected to be included in the group for a second tour in succession, meaning he would miss the summer trip to Japan with Joe Schmidt’s men.

Steve Borthwick is another tipped to be involved, with the English forwards coach having impressed during his spell alongside Eddie Jones with Japan at last year’s World Cup.

It is the attack coach, however, that will generate the most interest at today’s unveiling.

Saracens Director of Rugby McCall has been linked despite the first game of the tour coming just one week after the Aviva Premiership final and his previous criticism of the touring schedule.

It is hard, though, to deny his impressive credentials.

After leading Ulster to the Celtic League in 2006, still their last piece of silverware, McCall's spell in charge of his home province ended in something of an acrimonious split soon after but his career has gone from strength to strength since.

At Saracens, he won a Premiership and Champions Cup double last season, while also winning another domestic crown a year prior to that.

Speaking back in August, however, the Bangor man described the Lions tour schedule as "ludicrous".

The touring collective will play 10 games in New Zealand, starting on June 3 and running all the way to the Third Test in the second weekend of July.

"It is ludicrous they are playing 10 games," said McCall back in August.

"No-one talks about it, because it's the Lions, and the Lions are special. It's going to be tough, and something that needs to be looked at."

Tour manager John Spencer described today's announcement as a critical date on the journey to face the daunting challenge of the All Blacks.

"It is another important step on the road to New Zealand," he said.

"The success of any British and Irish Lions tour depends on having a quality coaching group, and we are very confident that the people we will name on Wednesday (today) can help deliver a Test series win.

"A 10-match tour of New Zealand requires toughness, as well as technical knowledge, and we firmly believe that the characters we have identified as the men to bring on board are exactly what is needed for the upcoming tour."

Meanwhile, George North has been stood down from all rugby activity by Northampton Saints following the head injury he sustained against Leicester Tigers on Saturday.

The Wales winger, who also has three Lions caps, was tackled in the air by Tigers winger Adam Thompstone and appeared to be lying unconscious on the floor after landing on his neck.

However, he passed the pitchside assessment and was allowed to return to the fray after Saints insisted he did not lose consciousness, with North later tweeting that he lay motionless in order to protect his neck.

Despite reiterating the 24-year-old remained conscious the whole time, Saints did admit they did not have full access to the television footage of the incident while conducting the assessment.

"As at every Premiership match, the Saints' medical team has access to video footage to be used to assist the pitchside assessment of injuries," the club said in a statement.

"It is important to note this video footage is not always the full range of replay angles available to the TV viewing audience at home.

"If evidence suggesting a loss of consciousness had been available to the medical team at the time of assessment, George would not have been allowed to return to the field of play."

The club declined to give a timescale on when North would return as they await an independent assessment of the injury, his fifth since 2014, when he received four head blows in five months, including two in the Six Nations game against England in 2015.

The final injury of those four, in March 2015, forced North to take a five-month break from the sport as he recovered.

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Belfast Telegraph