North cleared to play for British and Irish Lions

British and Irish Lions winger George North has been declared fit to play in the opening Test match against Australia’s Wallabies on Saturday.

The Lions suffered their first non-Test defeat in Australia in 42 years yesterday when they fielded a weakened team due to their injuries and lost ot the Brumbies.

North was in doubt for the Tests but now Lions assistant coach Rob Howley said his fellow Welshman was fully recovered from a hamstring strain.

The flying winger passed a fitness test Wednesday morning and is expected to play in the first Test on Saturday.

“I’ve never seen him in better shape and he’s available for selection which is a huge filip for us,” Howley said.

“It’s a huge morale boost to have someone like George North available for us.”

North, one of the best finishers in northern hemisphere rugby, is expected to line up against code-hopping Wallabies debutant Israel Folau at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium.

However, Welsh compatriot and fellow back Jamie Roberts remains a serious doubt for Saturday.

Centre Roberts, who pulled a hamstring against the Waratahs last weekend, is set to sit out the series-opener with Irish wing Tommy Bowe, who is recovering from a broken bone in his hand.

The pair may still return for the second Test in Melbourne on June 29. The third and final Test is in Sydney on July 6.

Howley rated England bulldozing centre Manu Tuilagi as “touch and go” for Saturday with his shoulder injury steadily improving.

His absence would leave a likely midfield pairing of Welshman Jonathan Davies alongside Irish veteran Brian O’Driscoll at outside centre.

The Lions, fielding six recent injury reinforcements, were battered at the breakdown by the Australian Super Rugby conference leaders in Canberra.

It was the Lions’ first tour loss to a provincial side since going down 35-30 to Northern Transvaal in South Africa in 1997 and the first win by an Australian provincial team against them since Queensland beat the tourists 15-11 in 1971.

Lions coach Warren Gatland said he hoped the loss would prove “a reality check” after five consecutive wins in Hong Kong and Australia.

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