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British and Irish Lions 2017: Owen Farrell fit to start first Test against All Blacks but Leigh Halfpenny a doubt

The Independent logo The Independent 18/06/2017 Jack de Menezes

© Provided by Independent Print Limited Owen Farrell will be fit to start the British and Irish Lions’ first Test against the All Blacks this Saturday, with Warren Gatland admitting that the thigh injury that he suffered last week was not a serious one, but the head coach will now sweat on the fitness of Leigh Halfpenny after the full-back showed side effects from the blow to the head he suffered in the win over the Maori All Blacks.

Halfpenny was struck with a shoulder charge by scrum-half Tawera Kerr-Barlow shortly after half-time, with a television match official review deeming the Maori half-back deserving of a yellow card.

However, there was no Head Injury Assessment for Halfpenny, who went on to play the entire game, before starting to show symptoms of a head injury after the match had finished.

Halfpenny will not have to play again before the first Test against New Zealand on Saturday after Gatland left him out of the squad that faces the Chiefs on Tuesday, but the full-back will now have to pass all of the return-to-play protocols in the next five days in order to be passed fit to face the All Blacks.

“Leigh Halfpenny obviously took a knock on the weekend, so he's going through the return-to-play protocols,” Gatland said on Sunday.

“Apart from that it's bumps and bruises, we took George Kruis off relatively early because his calf was a bit tight.

“But aside from that nothing that's a concern for too long. We're in pretty good shape at the moment.”

Should Gatland lose Halfpenny for the weekend encounter at Eden Park, he will have to deal with a second blow at full-back in the space of two weeks. Stuart Hogg had to fly back home last Wednesday after suffering a broken eye-socket and damaged cheekbone during the win over the Crusaders, which has already led to Gatland experimenting with Jared Payne, Antony Watson and, come this Tuesday against the Chiefs, Liam Williams at full-back.

However, Farrell’s return will ease fears that the European Player of the Year could miss the first Test, having suffered a thigh strain last week in training that ruled him out of the 32-10 victory over the Maori All Blacks.

“I was always confident about Owen being fit,” insisted the Lions coach.

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