Belfast Telegraph

Gatland’s case to answer over Lions Test snub for Henderson

By Jonathan Bradley

Former Lions and Ireland out-half Tony Ward has branded Warren Gatland’s decision to include Alun Wyn Jones against the All Blacks at the expense of Iain Henderson “questionable”.

Ignoring the claims of the 25-year-old Ulsterman, Gatland has kept faith with his old Wales accomplice for the second Test despite a poor performance against the World champions in Auckland last weekend.

The Ospreys man will partner Maro Itoje, with Courtney Lawes on the bench, and both Henderson and George Kruis left out.

With many taking to social media to air their displeasure, and former Ulster and Ireland captain Willie Anderson branding the selection “a mistake”, Ward has added his voice to the chorus that thinks Henderson could have provided an impact off the bench against Steve Hansen’s men.

“Based on last week’s performance, the re-selection of Alun Wyn Jones is questionable,” he said.

“The case for Itoje alongside the even more abrasive Courtney Lawes was very strong, thereby providing, through Iain Henderson — who was awesome against the Hurricanes — even greater impact off the bench.”

Lions head coach Gatland has told Henderson, however, that his tour is not over.

“I had a chat with him and just said to keep your head up,” he revealed.

“Just because you are not involved this week, it doesn’t mean you will potentially be excluded from the next Test.

“Courtney Lawes has done a really good job and Iain has been causing teams a lot of problems with his carrying. He has got better from game to game.”

But Anderson, who famously stood toe-to-toe with the All Blacks' Haka at Lansdowne Road in 1989, believes Gatland has missed a trick for tomorrow, saying Henderson is just the kind of character you need when preparing to take on the best in the world in a must-win game.

"I think it's a mistake, I'd have picked Henderson and Itoje," said the former lock who won 27 Test caps.

"There are certain players, and I'd have Peter O'Mahony in the same bracket, that whatever the level is, they step up to and then beyond it. There are other guys that you find who get onto the pitch in a big situation and step down a level.

"Hendy is the kind of player that the bigger the stage you give him, the bigger the performance you get.

"Whatever his performances for Ulster, when he then goes and plays for Ireland, he's outstanding because it's a bigger challenge for him.

"He reminds me very much of Jeremy Davidson, who had that great tour in 1997 in South Africa, the bigger the challenge, the bigger the performance. He's that kind of guy.

"That's what you need for playing the All Blacks and it disappoints me that the selection hasn't recognised that."

For Anderson, Gatland has been influenced by the relationship he has built with Alun Wyn Jones over the years as Wales coach, knowing too that he will have to rely on him again when returning to the post after this tour has concluded.

"The first thing I would look at is the sort of coach Gatland is," Anderson opined. "It all goes back to the personality of Warren Gatland.

"He's a very loyal coach, certainly to guys that have been loyal to him. That's going to have a major swing in his thinking.

"He's to go back to Wales and he knows he'll need him again.

"Up to this point, Maro Itoje has been his best lock, with Henderson and Lawes vying for two and three, then Kruis and only then Jones. That's just my assessment.

"Jones is a great player, and has had one game I thought was very good, but certainly last week I thought the pace was almost beyond him.

"To put him in, I don't think it's on performance, more Gatland's loyalty to him as a player.

"He's been a leader for him before and he knows he'll need him again, but for me it's not the right call."

It is not just the omission of Henderson that has confused Anderson, who wanted to see Ben Te'o retained rather than the dual play-making strategy of Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell in the 10/12 axis, while also calling for Ulster's Rory Best in the panel.

"(New Zealand) centre Sonny Bill Williams is the man I think will be most pleased by that," he said of Te'o's demotion. "Sexton and Farrell are both very, very good players but Te'o was the only guy there making Sonny Bill Williams look over his shoulder.

"It just defies a bit of logic. I don't think they can change their game plan that dramatically that quickly.

"If they were going to try and do something different or smart, I just don't think there's been enough time to drill that in and make it successful.

"I'm disappointed for Rory too, I think he's played very well.

"He's a leader and he's someone who has the respect of the players.

"There's a few things that make me think they could be absolutely hammered this weekend.

"I'd love to see it stay competitive and go to a deciding Test but I just can't see it."

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