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Michael Sadlier

It could be start or bust for Iain Henderson when it comes to the Lions’ Test selection

Michael Sadlier


Iain Henderson

Iain Henderson

©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Iain Henderson

Iain Henderson will be familiar with the tense pattern of Test week for the British and Irish Lions having been there four years ago in New Zealand.

He didn’t make Warren Gatland’s cut in 2017 and was considered desperately unlucky not to have been given a chance, so, this time around, the 29-year-old Ulsterman will badly want to be there for Saturday’s all-important first Test.

However, it is by no means clear that he will make the 23-player squad.

The arrival of original tour skipper Alun Wyn Jones has likely not helped the Ulsterman’s cause. Gatland will doubtless be tempted to include the totemic Welshman for the first Test and possibly put him alongside Maro Itoje, who showed up pretty well in last week’s meeting with the so-called South Africa ‘A’ side.

Then there is Henderson’s own performance in the South Africa ‘A’ defeat which was not as prominent as he would have liked though, of course, he was by no means alone in not necessarily hitting the mark in what was the tour’s first significant, and notably ultra-physical, encounter.

Another factor which will not have helped Henderson was how rival lock Adam Beard made quite an impact off the bench on Wednesday.

Should Gatland go with Jones and Itoje as his starters, then Henderson’s hopes are limited to making the bench.

Here, again, there are potential problems. The coach may not see him as an impact player with the same attributes as Courtney Lawes or indeed Tadhg Beirne with both able to cover both flank and lock as, indeed, Henderson can as well.

Should Gatland favour both Tom Curry’s power and Hamish Watson’s breakdown presence in the same back-row, that could put Lawes in as replacement lock and Beirne covering the scrum’s back three.

Even so, Beirne must be very close to nailing the starting shirt at six.

Injuries and Covid aside, these will be edgy days for Henderson ahead of selection for the first Test and he will be hoping that his physicality, with Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit around, will persuade Gatland that he must involve Ulster’s skipper.

As for the other Irish contenders, Tadhg Furlong looks to have a strong case, as does Jack Conan.

Conor Murray should be a starter and it is by no means beyond Gatland opting for a Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw centre combination to bring both strength and skill to the midfield.

But who to go with at 10 and will Owen Farrell even make the starting side should Dan Biggar be fit? And what of the right back three combination?

Huge questions and no easy answers.

If Gatland gets it wrong then it will likely be too big an ask to recover the series.

Lions (possible): S Hogg/L Williams, J Adams/A Watson, R Henshaw, B Aki/O Farrell, L Rees-Zammit/D van der Merwe, D Biggar, C Murray; W Jones, K Owens, T Furlong, A Wyn Jones (capt), M Itoje, T Curry, H Watson, J Conan.

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