Belfast Telegraph

No shocks as Ulster's trio fail to force their way into big opener

 

By Michael Sadlier

Nothing to see here from an Ulster point of view and, in fairness, we pretty much all knew there was no realistic chance of seeing any of Iain Henderson, Rory Best and Jared Payne on Saturday.

Our main hope was Henderson and this was based on the theory that Gatland might have included him on the bench after he had put together some decent performances of late.

But the clincher for the 25-year-old - who has shown up well after an understandably sluggish opener - was having to slog through all 80 minutes of Tuesday's win over the Chiefs.

If he was ever going to feature in his coach's thoughts for Eden Park then he would never have been asked to go the distance in a mid-week game.

The theory had been that it was between Henderson, Alun Wyn Jones and Courtney Lawes to be the second row back-up for the first Test. But it wasn't to be, with Gatland's real shock selection seeing Maro Itoje benched while veteran Alun Wyn Jones starts in the engine room alongside George Kruis.

Henderson might have also clutched at the straw that his versatility - being able to play at lock and blindside flanker - could have given him an edge when it came to being a Test replacement, but, on that score, he was clearly just too far back in the queue.

His best hope is that an opportunity presents itself either through injuries, or Gatland having a rethink if things go badly wrong.

For Best, being overlooked for starting hooker Jamie George, and replacement Ken Owens, will be a bitter blow but he must have known it was coming.

While his scrummaging and tackling have been notably good, there have been too many stray lineout throws and, anyway, Gatland has clearly been looking for a more dynamic presence at number two.

Like Henderson, unless there are injuries, or an abject collapse on Saturday, the Ulster veteran can expect to be involved one more time in next week's last mid-week game against the Hurricanes.

And while Henderson might make South Africa in four years' time, for Best it's over after this one as will be the case with Payne (above).

Indeed the Kiwi was always in the bolter territory when it came to Test selection but his slim chances weren't helped by injury in his first outing.

He got a run-out at full-back against the Highlanders which, if it had gone well, might have made Gatland think about him, but Payne made errors and that was the end of that.

So, no Ulstermen but also no sharp intakes of breath at this element of Gatland's selection.

LIONS: L Williams; A Watson, J Davies, B Te'o, E Daly; O Farrell, C Murray; M Vunipola, J George, T Furlong; A-W Jones, G Kruis; P O'Mahony (captain), S O'Brien, T Faletau. Replacements: K Owens, J McGrath, K Sinckler, M Itoje, S Warburton, R Webb, J Sexton, L Halfpenny.

ALL BLACKS: B Smith; I Dagg, R Crotty, S B Williams, R Ioane; B Barrett, A Smith; J Moody, C Taylor, O Franks; B Retallick, S Whitelock, J Kaino, S Cane, K Read (captain). Replacements: N Harris, W Crockett, C Faumuina, S Barrett, A Savea, T Perenara, A Cruden/L Sopoaga, A Lienert-Brown.

Belfast Telegraph

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