RORY SUTHERLAND’S hopes of making the Lions tour to South Africa this summer are hanging by a thread, with the loose-head prop in a race against time to be fit for the trip even if he does not require surgery on the shoulder injury suffered whilst playing for Scotland in their final match of this year’s Six Nations against France three weeks ago.
The 27-year-old’s form over the last 18 months has made him a genuine contender to not just make the 36-man touring party, but to be part of the Test team for the three-game series against the World Champion Springboks. However, the timescales for his recovery from injury are not promising for the Edinburgh player.
The squad will be announced in just under three weeks’ time on Thursday 6th May, with the Lions playing a warm-up match against Japan at Murrayfield on 26th June, while their first tour game is currently scheduled for 3rd July against the DHL Stormers.
“Rory is having more scans on his shoulder to decide whether he needs surgery or whether it can just be rehabbed,” said Richard Cockerill, who is Sutherland’s head coach at Edinburgh. “First diagnosis was a lot better than it could have been, potentially, so we’re hoping now that he will have another scan which will show a bit more detail and, hopefully, we’ll be able to avoid the surgeon’s knife.
“It would still be several weeks if it was non-surgical. It would put him in the timeframes potentially to be in and around some of those tours [Scotland have still confirm their summer schedule] but it would be touch and go I think.”
Even if Sutherland is fit to travel with the initial squad it is likely he will be seriously undercooked, meaning his best chance of making it to South Africa might be as a mid-tour call-up.
“As we’ve seen over numerous tours, you might not get picked and be on standby or even not in the reckoning at all, and it only takes an injury or two and suddenly you are propelled into a tour and end up starting in Test matches,” pointed out Cockerill.
“It’s a long tour, there will be a lot of injuries and instances which will happen, so if you don’t get picked in the first draft there is always a chance that you can get an opportunity later in the tour.
“There is a lot of rugby to be played still, and there is going to be some twists and turns before the Lions play that first Test against South Africa [on 24th July].”
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Sutherland’s fellow Hawick man Darcy Graham is also facing a lengthy period out of action.
“Darcy has had surgery on his shoulder to repair a long-standing issue,” explained Cockerill. “That was scanned last week and the best form of treatment, given where we are in the season, is to have surgery to repair the injury, and that will probably be the best part of between 12 and 16 weeks to recover.”
Meanwhile, the prognosis was more positive for hooker Stuart McInally, who has been out of action since the start of January with a neck injury, with Cockerill hopeful that the former Scotland captain can be back in action for the final 1872 Cup game of the season against Glasgow Warriors in two weeks’ time.
Scotland kick off their Rainbow Cup campaign at home to Zebre next Friday night, which will be the last run-out Hamish Watson, Jamie Ritchie and any other Lions hopefuls have before the squad is announced, but Cockerill doesn’t believe that will add any extra bite to the match.
“I don’t think so, because I think those decisions will already be made, really,” he said. “I’m not sure a wonderful game against Zebre is going to be the thing that swings you into a Lions tour.
“We’ll use this first game in particular to give some guys experience and blood a few guys who may not have started for the club before, then there is a week off for us followed by two big derby games,” he added.
“It is Glasgow, Glasgow, then we’re hoping to play one of the South African sides the week after that, then it is Ulster, who are a big team, and Scarlets – so there is some meaningful games there.
“And if guys are wanting to put their hands up for tours this summer, there is motivation there from a personal point of view to perform well.”