Sunday 20 August 2017

Why is Iain Henderson not in the Lions squad to face the All Blacks in the second test?

27 June 2017; Iain Henderson of the British & Irish Lions is tackled by Jeff Toomaga-Allen of of the Hurricanes during the match between Hurricanes and the British & Irish Lions at Westpac Stadium in Wellington, New Zealand. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
27 June 2017; Iain Henderson of the British & Irish Lions is tackled by Jeff Toomaga-Allen of of the Hurricanes during the match between Hurricanes and the British & Irish Lions at Westpac Stadium in Wellington, New Zealand. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Jack de Menezes

Warren Gatland’s selection for the British and Irish Lions’ second Test has triggered plenty of questions from fans who are not quite happy with who the head coach has selected for the must-win encounter in Wellington this weekend.

Maro Itoje, Sam Warburton and Johnny Sexton all come into the side, with Ben Te’o dropping to the replacements’ bench and both Peter O’Mahony and George Kruis left out of the matchday squad completely, the former having captained the side in the first Test defeat.

Many have asked why Te’o has been dropped given that he brought the physicality that Gatland wants in this weekend’s encounter, particularly in his absorbing battle with Sonny Bill Williams, while there have been others who felt that Courtney Lawes would have been a more sensible choice than retaining Alun Wyn Jones given their differing form of late.

But there were plenty, including former Lions captain Brian O’Driscoll, who believed that Iain Henderson had done enough to force his way into the Test squad, even if he was shown a yellow card for a tip-tackle clear-out on Jordie Barrett in Tuesday’s 31-31 draw with the Hurricanes.

Gatland offered his reasoning behind the decision to select Jones, Itoje and Lawes ahead of Henderson, and admitted that the sin-bin did play a factor in his absence for the second Test, though stressed he remains a strong contender for the third.

“The yellow card was disappointing, he would have been disappointed,” Gatland said. “I thought his carrying was outstanding and he has caused teams a lot of problems.

“I had a chat with him today and just said to keep your head up and that we had spoken a lot about him potentially being involved in the 23.

“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. I said just because you are not involved this week it doesn’t mean you will potentially be excluded from the next Test.”

The biggest surprise was that Jones held on to his starting berth instead of Kruis, meaning that Itoje will have to run the lineout on Saturday. Gatland revealed that Jones was disappointed with his performance last weekend, but in what appeared to be a show of faith by the man who appointed Jones captain in the decisive third Test in 2013, Jones gets a chance to make up for his error-strewn display in Auckland.

“It’s a big game for him. He was a bit disappointed with last week and how it went,” added Gatland. “He’s pretty focused and pretty motivated. It’s potentially a one-on-one challenge with his opposition. Normally in the past when he’s had those sort of challenges he has really fronted the next game. He’s trained well this week and I think he’s looking forward to Saturday night.”

It could prove to be a decisive call from Gatland if Jones fails to improve, given Itoje, Lawes and Henderson have very much been the form locks on the tour. But if the talismanic Welshman can rekindle that aggression that has defined his game over the last three Lions tours, Gatland may find the needed physicality within the Wales skipper.

(© Independent News Service)

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