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NZ series has taken its toll on Lions players

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    21 Dec 2017     Getty Images

England's Independent.co.uk said the price of the drawn series in June-July was clear for all to see in the form of players who couldn't be seen on northern rugby fields at the moment.

"It's incredibly alarming to see that nearly half the original 41-man Lions squad has suffered injury since the tour got underway at the start of June," it said.

Tour captain Sam Warburton won't play at all this season.

Neither Gloucester flanker Ross Moriarty or Ulster back Jared Payne have played since returning home while one intended tourist, England No.8 Billy Vunipola, who was forced out of the tour due to a knee injury, suffered another knee injury when returning to play. Wales No.8 Taulupe Faletau and England midfield Ben Te'o are others who may battle to play in the Six Nations.

Nineteen of the 41 players in the Lions squad have had time out of the northern season due to injuries while 12 are sidelined as their clubs head into a vital part of their season over the Christmas-New Year period.

"There's an obvious explanation behind the large list of absentees, and it only takes a glance at the fixture list to see why the players harbour genuine concern when it comes to injuries and burnout," it said.

Using England lock and World Rugby player of the year nominee Maro Itoje as an example it said Itoje had returned from injury at this time last year. He played in each of England's Six Nations games, was a key player for Saracens achieving a second Champions Cup success before being a star performer for the Lions.

A few weeks after that he was back in pre-season training and played in Saracens' opening game due to a shortage of players.

While England coach Eddie Jones recognised Itoje needed a break and rested him from the November Test against Argentina, he had to recall him for the final two Tests due to injuries to other players. He played 12 of a possible 14 games before suffering a broken jaw that could impact on his chances of playing in the Six Nations.

"If players aren't being allowed the time to rest after these incredibly physical tests, then their bodies are going to start breaking down.

"We've seen that recently with Vunipola as well as Wales duo Sam Warburton and George North, and in the case of the Lions captain, Warburton will not play at all this season due to a mixture of neck and knee injuries and the need for his body to recuperate after seven years of rugby at the highest, most physically challenging level," it said.