Iain Henderson's massive effort marred by costly yellow card
Secondrow well aware of the need for a big performance in advance of later Tests
Iain Henderson is shown the yellow card as Lions team captain Rory Best talks to referee Roman Poite during the match against the Hurricanes at Westpac Stadium. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images
If nothing else, Iain Henderson has had an education on this Lions tour. Off-colour in the first game against the Provincial Barbarians, the Ulster lock has produced three big games in a row, with his display against the Hurricanes the best so far.
When the Hurricanes had come storming back at the Lions after half-time with a ten-point salvo, it was Iain Henderson who, more than anybody, grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck with a barnstorming spell of rugby. After an undistinguished first outing against the Barbarians, this was the high point of his best performance of four fine ones in a row.
The low point came when clearing out Jordie Barrett at a ruck, lifting him and driving him into the ground. After recourse to the TMO, George Ayoub, Romain Poite was encouraged to award a yellow card. It was probably a fair call, although Henderson was a little unlucky in that Jonathan Joseph had lifted Barrett slightly as well.
During this time the Lions’ 14-point lead evaporated. He was, in many ways, the story of the match, and he had a story to tell.
“It was definitely an enjoyable game to play in, for the 70 minutes I played, but that yellow was frustrating. It was stupid and probably a little bit of mistimed rucking, I would describe it as. It was definitely hard for me sitting there and watching those ten minutes, and putting the guys in that tough position. However we came back at the end there and we were trying to put a bit of pressure on there, but that’s the way it goes, isn’t it?”
“I’ve got a few lucky bounces of the ball, for the pass to George [North] and stuff. I was happy enough. I got a bit of ball in hand. However, it was probably overshadowed by the silliness of the yellow card.”
Henderson didn’t lie. He knew what was at stake, both collectively and individually. Regarding the latter, it seemed as if he and Courtney Lawes were auditioning for at least one place in the second Test 23.
“It’s Tuesday of a Test week. Obviously there’s place not necessarily up for grabs but there’s places for which we can definitely put our hand up, even if it’s the last Test. You’re always trying to put on your best performance. I think Courtney played well. As I’ve said before it’s out of our hands. We don’t make the decisions. We just have to put on a performance to try and help the coaches make their decisions.”
Hence, he was not unaware of the possible ramifications when decisions were made regarding replacements.
It was, he admitted, “definitely in my head,”, adding: “It was depending on whether or not he was going to make changes with the other subs or whether or not he was going to go similar to the last game and play [guys for] the full 80. But there’s so much happening in the game, you don’t get the chance to try and think of the coaching tactics of it. Unfortunately I did get a 10 minute break anyway, so 70 minutes, probably would have preferred 80.”
Collectively, there was plenty on the line too.
“Like Rory said – and I mentioned this earlier on in the week– for a lot of the boys out there, it will be the last time they pull on a Lions jersey, definitely on this tour if not in their careers. For me, it was about taking it in.
“I thought the fans were fantastic, not only the Lions side but both sides. I was shattered and definitely frustrated, with the yellow card more than anything. However, I think a few of the boys just said ‘enjoy the experience’. There were patches of the game we played really well in and there’s an awful lot that we can take from that game to build on.”
It would be a shame if this was his last involvement in this tour, for he’s come a long way.
“Don’t get me wrong, I think it would be ideal to be in that Test squad. However, the boys are all massively proud to be here. I don’t think it’s all about that. We’re all going to be backing that Test team. Maybe looking back it might be frustrating, but as soon as we hear that Test team on Thursday we’ll knuckle down behind the boys and leave our emotions aside. Prepping the boys is all we can do to make sure that they and us as an extended squad get the series win.”