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Lions team news: Iain Henderson misses out on squad for first Test against South Africa


Iain Henderson. Pic: INPHO/Billy Stickland

Iain Henderson. Pic: INPHO/Billy Stickland

©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Iain Henderson. Pic: INPHO/Billy Stickland

Iain Henderson will not become a Test Lion in this weekend’s opener against South Africa.

The Ulster captain’s position in the squad had been thought to be touch-and-go, with tough decisions facing coach Warren Gatland following the surprise return of Tour captain Alun-Wyn Jones.

Late reports last night suggested Henderson may earn a spot on the bench behind Jones and Maro Itoje, with Courtney Lawes instead handed a start in the back row.

That is indeed where Lawes has been named but Henderson’s Irish team-mate Tadhg Beirne is the one to provide second row cover from the bench in a traditional 5/3 split of forwards and backs after Liam Williams was deemed fit enough to be named as a replacement.

The news is a significant blow to Henderson, who has played four games for the Lions so far this summer and captained the team for the midweek win over the Sharks.

He was also part of the Tour to New Zealand in 2017, when he played six games but failed to feature in a Test.

The debate will now centre around Henderson's hopes of going one better this year in either the second or third Tests.

Gatland has gambled on the fitness of captain Jones, who dislocated his shoulder in the warm-up game against Japan but made a quicker than expected recovery and leads this side.

Three Irishmen do start in the form of Jack Conan, Tadhg Furlong and Robbie Henshaw, with Conor Murray joining Beirne on the bench.

Lawes won the battle for the No 6 shirt ahead of Beirne and the England powerhouse is joined by Tom Curry and Conan in the back-row.

In the front-row, Wales looshead Wyn Jones links up with England's Luke Cowan-Dickie and Furlong in a combination that has never played together before.

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Likewise, at half-back, Ali Price and Dan Biggar pair up for the first time as Murray joins his 2017 starting half-back partner from the first Test Owen Farrell in reserve.

The selection will come as a major blow to Murray who started all three Tests in New Zealand and was named tour captain when Jones went down before departure.

He was only selected to start one game, against South Africa 'A', and appears to have carried the can for that performance along with England captain Farrell.

Henshaw plays at inside centre with Elliot Daly after their pair linked up last weekend, while Scotland pair Stuart Hogg and Duhan van der Merwe join Anthony Watson in the back-three as leading try scorer Josh Adams misses out entirely.

On the bench, Wales Ken Owens edges out Jamie George for reserve hooker and there's no place for Mako Vunipola as Rory Sutherland and Kyle Sinckler cover the prop positions.

Beirne and Hamish Watson provide second and back-row cover, while Murray, Farrell and Williams cover the backs.

In a statement, Gatland said it was a difficult selection process.

“In my four Tours as a Lions coach, this was by far the hardest Test selection I have been involved in,” he said.

“We couldn’t have asked for more from the players so far; they’ve all put their hands up and made picking a starting XV incredibly difficult. In truth, we would have been happy with any number of different combinations across the 23, however, we’re very pleased with the side we’ve settled on.

“We know what we’re coming up against on Saturday. It’s going to be an arm wrestle, there’s no doubt about it. We’ll need to front up physically and be ready to go from the first whistle. When we played SA ‘A’ last week we probably took a bit too long to get into the game, something we can’t afford to do that again this weekend.

“We need to make sure we play in the right areas of the field, not give them easy territory and take our chances when they come.

“While the stands will be empty in Cape Town Stadium, we know Lions fans from across the home nations will be cheering us on back home. We’ll do our best to get the win.”

Lions team to face South Africa (Saturday, Cape Town Stadium, 5.0; Sky Sports)

15. Stuart Hogg (Exeter Chiefs, Scotland)

14. Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby, England)

13. Elliot Daly (Saracens, England)

12. Robbie Henshaw (Leinster Rugby, Ireland)

11. Duhan van der Merwe (Worcester Warriors, Scotland)

10. Dan Biggar (Northampton Saints, Wales)

9. Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland)

1. Wyn Jones (Scarlets, Wales)

2. Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs, England)

3. Tadhg Furlong (Leinster Rugby, Ireland)

4. Maro Itoje (Saracens, England)

5. Alun Wyn Jones – captain (Ospreys, Wales)

6. Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints, England)

7. Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, England)

8. Jack Conan (Leinster Rugby, Ireland)


16. Ken Owens (Scarlets, Wales)

17. Rory Sutherland (Worcester Warriors, Scotland)

18. Kyle Sinckler (Bristol Bears, England)

19. Tadhg Beirne (Munster Rugby, Ireland)

20. Hamish Watson (Edinburgh Rugby, Scotland)

21. Conor Murray (Munster Rugby, Ireland)

22. Owen Farrell (Saracens, England)

23. Liam Williams (Scarlets, Wales)

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