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Iain Henderson can stake Test claim as Lions face Maori All Blacks

 

By Jonathan Bradley

Ulsterman Iain Henderson could take a huge step towards securing a place in the Lions Test squad when the tourists take on the New Zealand Maori in Rotorua tomorrow.

The game (8.35am) was always expected to see head coach Warren Gatland select the bulk of those he wants to face the All Blacks in the first Test next weekend, with the Ulster lock handed a place among the replacements.

After a lacklustre opening game on tour, Henderson impressed mightily against the Highlanders in Dunedin on Tuesday, with that showing now seeing him given a chance to back up England and Saracens pair George Kruis and Maro Itoje in the engine room.

With Alun Wyn Jones and Courtney Lawes also on tour, competition is fierce, but Henderson will look to grab what could be his last chance to impress before the games with the back-to-back World champions begin.

There is no place in the match-day 23, however, for his Ulster team-mates Jared Payne and Rory Best, while the biggest omission was out-half Owen Farrell, who has picked up a quad injury and will be replaced by Johnny Sexton.

Gatland said: "He was down a little on confidence but he's got a bit of his mojo back, we wanted to give him a start."

Meanwhile, Ulster lock Kieran Treadwell could make his Ireland debut off the bench in tomorrow's contest with Japan (6am).

Belfast Telegraph

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