Stuart Hogg’s Lions tour place in balance after cheek injury

Scotland and Lions full-back Stuart Hogg leaves the field with a bloodied face after his collision with Conor Murray.
Scotland and Lions full-back Stuart Hogg leaves the field with a bloodied face after his collision with Conor Murray.
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Stuart Hogg faces a nervous 48-hour wait to discover whether his cheek injury could end his British and Irish Lions tour.

The Scotland full-back suffered a hugely unlucky facial injury in Saturday’s impressive 12-3 win over the Crusaders, running face-first into Conor Murray’s elbow.

The Glasgow star collided with Murray as the Ireland scrum-half attempted to move out of Hogg’s way and head coach Warren Gatland admitted the full-back will now be sent to a specialist to determine the extent of the damage to his cheek.

Sam Warburton has shaken off his ankle problem to captain the Lions in tomorrow’s Highlanders clash in Dunedin, while Jared Payne is fit to start at full-back as Gatland assesses his options at 15 given Hogg’s injury doubt.

“With Stuart Hogg, we’re getting a specialist to have a look at that cheek of his, to get some idea in the next 24 to 48 hours in terms of how serious an injury that is,” said Gatland.

“We’re hoping he’ll be okay but we’re just getting someone more qualified than me to assess that.”

Centre Jonathan Davies must complete return-to-play protocols after a head knock, but is already free of any concussion symptoms, while Ross Moriarty is still carrying the after-effects of a back spasm.

Dan Biggar is fit to return and start at stand-off having completed all the relevant concussions testing, and Murray suffered a suspected dislocated finger against the Crusaders but Lions bosses are unconcerned by the minor issue.

“Dan’s fine, he ran out with the team the other day,” said Gatland of Biggar. “He’s looking forward to the opportunity to get back on the park again.

“Ross Moriarty had a bit of a back strain that he got in that first game. He hasn’t taken a huge part in training, the physios have been working with him. Hopefully he’s back training fully in three days’ time.

“He definitely would have been an option, that’s why CJ Stander is backing up again. Sam Warburton hadn’t had a lot of rugby under his belt so it was important to get him involved for this game. He could potentially back that up against the Maori All Blacks [on Saturday].”

Wales flanker Warburton, pictured, suffered his low-grade ankle knock in the tour-opening 13-7 win over the Provincial Barbarians. The Lions skipper believes boss Gatland boasts a “nice luxury” of eight back-rowers all worthy of Test-match selection.

“I probably only missed one or two sessions, so my preparation hasn’t changed a whole lot,” said Warburton. “I was hoping to get involved in this game. I’ve always said I think I need a couple of games to get up and running, so I’ll be better on Tuesday. I thought going into this tour, looking at the eight boys picked in the back-row, you could pick any three for the Test team.

“It’s a nice luxury for the coaches and great competition for us as players. But a lot of players will put huge emphasis on that first Test.

“But as I know from four years ago, a lot can happen between the Tests. We’ve got to remember the first Test is not the be-all and end-all.

“Guys will feel a little rushed to show their cards and all their best form, but must remember there are still two more Tests and a midweek game to prove yourself after that. If I had to name my top-five opensides in the world, Justin Tipuric and Sean O’Brien would be in there.”

The Lions put their tour back on track after stifling Crusaders, New Zealand’s best Super Rugby team, who had been unbeaten in 14 games this season. Stand-off Owen Farrell kicked four penalties, but superb defence and a forward pack brilliantly marshalled by Irish scrum-half Murray inspired the win.