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13th Jun 2017

Two Ireland players stake Test claims with class, gutsy performances

Not many else did

Patrick McCarry


“We always said about coming to New Zealand, how tough it would be.”

Warren Gatland can say that again and, before this tour is out, he probably will.

The British & Irish Lions lost 23-22 to Highlanders in Dunedin to drop their second game of their tour to New Zealand. With just two warm-up games left before the Test Series against the All Blacks, the Lions would have been hoping for some more momentum after their main men defeated Crusaders.

The midweek teams are now 0-2 and very few that have featured have done their Test chances much good.

Six Ireland players featured for Gatland’s team today and only two truly shot their hands up for Test selection. Iain Henderson was arguably the best Lion on display although Jonathan Joseph and Rhys Webb had decent games too.

Henderson played the full 80 minutes and brought the required drive and aggression in attack and defence. He made 12 carries for 25 metres gained, shrugged off a couple of Highlanders in the tackle, made one fine offload and another that Jack Nowell should have held onto and landed eight tackles.

The Ulster lock also made a fantastic ruck clear-out, after 56 minutes, with CJ Stander pouncing to help finish off the crucial turnover.


Stander was the other Ireland international to do his Test chances no harm. The Munster man has, so far, been short of carries that gain major metres but his defence and willingness to do the dirty work has been evident.

In Dunedin, Stander topped the carry count [20] and gained 41 metres for the Lions. He also stuck 10 of his 12 tackles and played a key role in three turnovers [including the one initiated by Henderson.

In the final minutes, with the Lions needin the ball back to eek out a final scoring chance, Stander stepped up with his third and final turnover.

The turnover left a slew of Highlanders in offside positions and when one of them could not help themselves, referee Angus Gardner awarded a 56-metre penalty that Elliott Daly came so, so close to sticking over the posts.

Stander would seem to have the best chance of making the Test squad from the five Ireland players that started and replacement loose-head Jack McGrath will push Mako Vunipola all the way for the No.1 jersey. Henderson could yet make the matchday 23 as Courtney Lawes shipped a bad blow to the head during today’s game.

As for the other Irish players that featured, Rory Best scrapped gamely, Robbie Henshaw had his best game to date and Jared Payne was merely okay.

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