Warren Gatland gives positive update about Robbie Henshaw’s Lions hopes

Ireland centre won’t feature on Wednesday as he recovers from ‘mild hamstring strain’

Warren Gatland saw the Lions win their first game on South African soil. Photograph:  Billy Stickland/Inpho

Warren Gatland saw the Lions win their first game on South African soil. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

 

Warren Gatland has allayed fears over Robbie Henshaw’s fitness for the start of the Test series against the Springboks in three weeks’ time by intimating the Irish centre will only be ruled out of consideration for the next one or two matches.

“He’s got a very, very mild hamstring strain. He definitely won’t be considered for next Wednesday, then we’ll just assess his progress,” said Gatland in reference to the British & Irish Lions second tour match against the Sharks next Wednesday.

“We won’t push him if we don’t have to. It may be a couple of games, we just want to make sure he’s 100 per cent right because there’s no doubt he’s been one of the standout players in the Six Nations and the way he’s been playing - we’d like to get him back to full fitness without putting him under any pressure and be able to give him a couple of games before we start considering the Test side.”

Gatland seemed reasonably pleased with his sides’ opening effort on South African soil, a 56-14 win over the Sigma Lions in Johannesburg, all the more so as his medical team reported no injuries.

“The positive thing is that there’s still lots of things to work on. We’ve been getting better and better as a squad the more time we spend together. We made 14 changes.

“We put down bit of a marker but we know as a group that as a group we won’t be 100 per cent satisfied until we show lots of improvements, but we feel we can get there and make lots of improvements too.”

The game was notable for Josh Adams becoming the first player to score four tries for the Lions since Shane Williams scored five against Manawatu in 2005.

“The guy on the left wing did okay,” noted Gatland ironically when asked to single out individuals or other aspects of the performance.

“I was pleased with the bench, they brought some energy.

Probably we went in there with a gameplan that we had to adjust because we were getting a bit more success in terms of... they probably didn’t pressure us as much in defence as we had expected.

Josh Adams scored four tries in the Lions’ warm-up win over the Sigma Lions. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty
Josh Adams scored four tries in the Lions’ warm-up win over the Sigma Lions. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty

“So we were able to change the way we play, which was a pretty good reaction. I was just pretty pleased. The energy and enthusiasm with guys working hard to get back when they made a few breaks and we made a couple of mistakes.

“They were hard to get the ball off because there was a lot of one-pass rugby, two-pass rugby. When we turned it over they played lots of phases against us, but I thought it was a really positive start.”

True to his word that every member of the 38-man squad will be given a start in the opening three games, including last week’s win over Japan in Murryfield, Gatland confirmed: “The players who haven’t started will start on Wednesday.

“We’ve got a day off tomorrow. The non-23 had a tough hot out this morning with some fitness and skill work. We’re trying to get everyone on the same cycle, so we’re off tomorrow and will probably name the team to players tomorrow, (then) Monday training and then the captain’s run, so it’s a very short turnaround.

“I’ve been incredibly impressed with the players, their attitude and how they have been preparing with their own walk throughs and time on the laptops. It’s good for everyone to have a start in the first three games, so we’ll probably still be a little bit rusty with making so any changes, but we’ll see how we go on Wednesday.”

The backrow is shaping up to be particularly competitive, as expected, after a try-scoring man of the match performance by Hamish Watson at openside and a big game by Courtney Lawes.

“We’ve been really impressed with Courtney so far, he came on at second-row last week and then backrow today.

“His foot-work and workrate was fantastic, he does give us options for secondrow and backrow.

“The pleasing thing is we’ve got so much competition. It will be interesting to see next week a different sort of backrow with Tom Curry, (Josh) Navidi and Sam Simmonds. That’s pretty exciting as well.

“So, the competition is huge. We’re kind of not really, at the moment, trying to predict what a Test side looks like. We’re trying to let that unfold and see how the players keep performing, playing, how the combinations work.

“Then, we’ll start looking at our options. We definitely don’t want to pigeonhole anyone.

“We’re keeping an open mind about how we play and how we keep improving.”

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