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Dublin: 3 °C Monday 16 December, 2019

Brains and brawn in Henshaw display and more talking points after the Highlanders see off Lions

The Athlone man battled his way through a tough contest under the roof in Dunedin.

THE LIONS LOST their second match on their tour of New Zealand at the home of the Highlanders. Find our match report from Dunedin here, or find some of our instant post-match talking points below.

Momentum lost again

After the fist-clenched celebrations of a hard fought win in Wintry Christchurch, the Lions were brought back down to earth in the pristine playing conditions under the Forsyth-Barr roof by the Highlanders.

Siua Halanukonuka celebrates his sides victory Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

This squad was never going to be an all conquering unit, but the momentum of victories over club sides would be useful to force the All Blacks to at least second guess themselves. Instead, the hosts still hold the upper hand and the Lions are learning with each passing minute that they need their absolute best crop of players on the field to succeed.

Oooooh Waisake Naholo!

We all speak at great length about the selection calls ahead of Warren Gatland, but spare a thought for poor Steve Hansen.

Waisake Naholo has been in outrageous form since returning from a hamstring injury in recent weeks and today’s game-breaking (and Courtney Lawes-shaking) try was another example of the threat he poses in attack.

Waisake Naholo scores their first try despite CJ Stander Source: Photosport/Joe Allison/INPHO

Naholo faces a tight contest with Julian Savea and Israel Dagg for wing positions though, with the former’s prolific rate of scoring at Test level and the latter’s aerial prowess looking set to  count against ‘Wise’. Of all coaches though, Hansen is one of the least likely to get caught up in a player’s drawbacks rather than his ability and once on the field, Naholo is one of the most exciting sights in the game.

Henshaw shines through

Robbie Henshaw was terrific in Dunedin, he wasted no time in getting himself primed and looked at a different physical level than most players on the field.

Robbie Henshaw with Dillon Hunt Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

He did more than throw himself into tackles and rucks, he used his hands extremely well in defence too, consistently looking to slap the ball out of carriers’ hands when the all-out tackle wasn’t quite on. The Athlone man saved a certain try early on, when he forced Fekitoa into a panic by targeting the ball as he chased him towards the touchline and when he made the tackle he provided a big enough obstacle to take down Tevita Li as an added bonus.

After Owen Farrell’s latest impressive showing in midfield, it’s tough to predict whether Gatland will go with a playmaker or the physical presence of Henshaw or Ben Te’o at 12, but the Leinster star furthered his own case massively today.

2 out of 4, and it doesn’t get any easier ahead

Nobody ever thought going to New Zealand was going to be easy, but there are two more tough weeks ahead before the Tests begin. On Saturday, the tourists go to Rotorua to take on the Maori – a fixture that is always nothing if not emotionally charged and uber physical. On the heels of that visit to the hot springs will be the Chiefs, who showed last year just how much they love tearing Warren Gatland teams apart.

Stuart Hogg who has been ruled out of the remainder of the tour through injury Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

With injuries just beginning to become a factor after the withdrawal of Stuart Hogg and Courtney Lawes early concussion, the head coach has some touch choices to make in the effort to balance continuity to maintain a steady course in tough games with the possibility of injecting fresh faces and energy into this tour.

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As it happened: Highlanders v The Lions

Ryan enjoying leadership role while also finding his own feet at international level

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Sean Farrell

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