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Provincial greats are tipping Henderson and Best to enhance our Lions legacy

By Jonathan Bradley

Three of Ulster's former British and Irish Lions heroes have had their say on who could be following in their footsteps come this summer's tour to New Zealand.

Warren Gatland will name his travelling party in April but, with the Six Nations fast approaching, the hype surrounding the identity of the men who will aim for just a second ever series victory over the All Blacks is already growing.

And when David Irwin, Trevor Ringland and Nigel Carr gathered to launch a gala event to be held later this year to honour Queen's University's own former Lions, the trio all said they believed Rory Best and Iain Henderson can provide Ulster representation.

"There are a few who are maybe a couple of years off," said Ringland, who took on the All Blacks on the tour of 1983. "But Iain Henderson has been playing really, really well.

"Rory is one of those solid players who does the hard work and sets it up for others, and is a great leader as well.

"Jared Payne, if he's back (from injury), would be good."

And while the back-three spots are sure to be hotly contested, former winger Ringland believes Andrew Trimble could force his way into the reckoning with a strong Six Nations.

"Outside of those three it's going to be very difficult for them but Trimble is there as well," he said. "I like him because he always asks of the opposition, it usually takes two or three guys to stop him, so hopefully he's in with a shot as well."

Irwin, who like Ringland was a tourist in 1983, faced the All Blacks three times in the red jersey of the Lions and hopes that the province's failure to qualify from their Champions Cup pool doesn't cost this year's hopefuls.

"Unfortunately when you're not in the latter stages of the European Cup, that takes away a window of an opportunity," he said.

"Because Ulster aren't there, that's maybe detrimental to their chances.

"Rory is the obvious one and for me he certainly deserves to be in the squad. He's consistent, he's a good leader and you can see with Ireland he's done well.

"The Lions captaincy, I'd doubt it at this stage but he's definitely a good shout for the Test hooker.

"Iain Henderson is clearly another one who could potentially be in the mix if he plays well for Ireland.

"At the moment, outside that there's not too many other Ulster players putting their hands up when you look at the competition from the other countries."

And while Carr, who made his Lions appearance in 1986 against a rest of world select, agrees that those two remain the favourites, he says any player featuring during the Six Nations is in with a chance.

"In 1986, it was the 15 plus subs and subs didn't play unless someone was injured," he said.

"These days, there's three teams picked out of four nations so if you're prominent for the national side, you've a reasonable chance of getting selected. The likes of Stuart McCloskey, if he can get into Ireland, he can then see himself on a Lions tour."

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