By Nick Mulvenney
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia suffered a hammer blow in their preparations for this year's tour of the British and Irish Lions when flanker David Pocock was ruled out for the season with a knee injury on Sunday.
Openside Pocock's ability to turn over ball at the breakdown would have made him one of the first names on the team sheet for three tests against the Lions in June and July and he was also a contender to captain the hosts.
The 24-year-old ACT Brumbies forward injured his left knee in a Super Rugby match on Saturday, coming off the pitch early in the first half after being tackled by Adam Ashley-Cooper of New South Wales Waratahs.
Scans later confirmed an anterior cruciate ligament injury, which will require surgery and six months out of the game, an ACT Brumbies spokesman said on Sunday.
The Zimbabwean-born flanker will miss the rest of the Super Rugby season, the Lions tour as well as the southern hemisphere's international Rugby Championship.
Pocock, who has played 45 tests since his debut in 2008, was one of four players to captain Australia last season as the Wallabies were hit by a catalogue of injuries.
Incumbent captain James Horwill has still not played since last May because of injury but the lock is expected to make his return for the Queensland Reds over the next few weeks.
Waratahs flanker Michael Hooper is the most likely replacement for Pocock in the number seven jersey after several impressive performances for Australia at the back end of last year.
Queensland Reds youngster Liam Gill is also in fine form but Wallabies coach Robbie Deans might want to reconsider 110-cap flanker George Smith as an option.
Smith, 32, replaced Pocock for the Brumbies on Saturday, making his first Super Rugby appearance since 2010, but is still attached to his Japanese club and there are question marks about his eligibility.
Deans said earlier this week that Smith would not be considered for the tests against the Lions in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.
The man-of-the match performance by Wales flanker Sam Warburton in the Six Nations victory over Scotland on Saturday would only have compounded Deans's misery at the loss of Pocock.
(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)