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Iain Henderson ready to roar as a first-time Lion, believes Bowe

 

By Jonathan Bradley

Two-time tourist Tommy Bowe believes Iain Henderson is the perfect man to continue Queen's University's British and Irish Lions legacy.

With Henderson named in Warren Gatland's touring party for the summer series in New Zealand, he became the club's 22nd player contributed to the famous collective, more than any other club in Ireland, and that history was celebrated with a gala dinner this weekend.

Speaking at the event, Bowe hailed Henderson's potential impact against the All Blacks.

"I think Hendy is a great character and he'll embrace every minute of it," said the Monaghan man who toured South Africa in 2009 and Australia four years later.

"This is a real opportunity for him to really put his hand up. I think he'll fit in very well.

"I just hope they have the same sort of ethos and that they'll able to enjoy each other's company and come together.

"There going into a very hostile and tough environment and there's going to be a lot of pressure on from the get-go, so I hope there is a chance to get together and get to know each other.

"I know Warren Gatland has talked about learning to sing songs and having a beer with each other.

"Whenever four countries come together after knocking lumps out of each other for some time, to try and take on one of the top teams in the world, you have to bond and know the man behind you has got your back."

And while the first tour game is still 40 days away, the New Zealand media's famous mind games have already begun with Ulster's Jared Payne the early target.

Payne, a native New Zealander who qualifies for Ireland, and subsequently the Lions, on residency after moving to Belfast in 2011, has seen his selection criticised by the New Zealand Herald, the same paper who quoted former All Blacks coach Laurie Mains as expecting a 3-0 whitewash in the Tests.

"The debate isn't about whether Jared Payne, Ben Te'o and CJ Stander are good enough to be Lions," wrote columnist Gregor Paul of the Lions' players born in the Southern Hemisphere.

"The question is deeper, more fundamental, which is how on earth do they end up playing for the Lions when all three of them, or certainly Payne and Stander, no doubt grew up dreaming about playing against them?

"Take Payne as the example. He was pushing towards the edge of All Blacks' selection.

"He'd consistently impressed at both the Crusaders and Blues, either at wing, fullback or centre and he was probably only a couple of injuries away from making the World Cup squad.

"No one is suggesting he was going to be a regular All Black, but the point is, he was targeting that as his goal, right up until Ulster came calling with a swag of cash.

"The story to this point has no twists - until it is realised that Ulster were supported financially by the Irish Rugby Union in making the payment because the latter could see that Payne would have served his required residency period at about the same time they expected the great Brian O'Driscoll to retire.

"They bought a New Zealander to fill a national jersey and while that is their business to square away with those domestic players trying to make it through the development pathways, it becomes a bigger problem when Payne and others who have converted as so-called project players, make the British and Irish Lions."

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