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Henderson proud of Lions after strangest of days on tour in South Africa

The Ireland lock led Warren Gatland’s side to their big win over the Sharks.

Henderson speaks to the Lions before their clash with the Sharks.
Henderson speaks to the Lions before their clash with the Sharks.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

AS HE LOOKED forward to captaining the Lions for the first time this week, Iain Henderson can’t have imagined how challenging the circumstances would be.

Things were ticking along smoothly until yesterday morning when it emerged that a member of the Lions’ management had tested positive for Covid-19.

Contingency plans were rapidly sprung as the entire Lions squad were isolated in their own hotel rooms, given PCR and lateral flow tests, and told to ready themselves for the game with the Sharks yesterday evening. The test results confirmed another positive case, this time a player, and meant eight others were deemed close contacts.

And so, the rest of the squad finally set out for Ellis Park with less than two hours until kick-off of a game that had looked all but certain to be cancelled at one stage.

Speaking last night after the Lions’ 54-7 victory in Johannesburg, Henderson recounted what must have been one of the strangest days in his career.

“We were waiting for results, guys not sure if the game was going ahead, if they were positive, close contacts, so many different variables,” said the Ireland lock.

“You’re sitting on the edge of your bed waiting to go. We were told to prepare as if the game was going ahead and I think as easy as that is to say, it’s not easy to do.

“So the bus was due to leave at 10 past six and at six, the guys still weren’t 100% sure. They were in their red polos and shorts sitting in their rooms waiting to get the all-clear so they could go and play.

“To have that lack of preparation on game day where we’d usually have a walk-through, share a couple of meals, and have a very different day to what we had today, so for guys to pitch up the way they did was great.”

josh-adams-celebrates-with-bundee-aki The Lions scored eight tries last night. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The upheaval meant the Lions were forced into last-minute changes to their matchday 23 as tour captain Conor Murray, Liam Williams, Anthony Watson, Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies, Stuart Hogg, Chris Harris, and Tadhg Beirne were all ruled out.

Josh Adams came into the starting XV and scored a hat-trick while the other players called in at late notice also contributed to running eight tries past the mismatched Sharks.

“There’s any list of excuses we could have used,” said Henderson. “We could have backed out of tackles, dropped the heads, but the guys didn’t. They dug in for each other to make sure that we kept what we wanted to do on this tour on track.

“Obviously, it was a very difficult day. There’s a lot of guys who didn’t get to carry out their usual match routines. There’s so many other reasons apart from the obvious ones that guys could have turned to but they didn’t.

“I can’t reiterate enough how proud of them I am.”

What happens next for the Lions is the big question.

They don’t currently have a match scheduled for this weekend following the postponement of their clash with the Bulls, but head coach Warren Gatland last night confirmed that they’re still hoping to find replacement opposition.

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iain-henderson-goes-up-for-a-lineout Henderson claims a lineout. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

There are, of course, doubts over the viability of the Test series too given the current Covid cases on both camps and the fact that the first clash with the Springboks is in just 16 days’ time.

Henderson said he and his team-mates will simply adapt to whatever happens next and continue to do their best to steer clear of Covid.

“We don’t see anyone from outside of our bubble, no one at all,” said Henderson.

“We get up, we get on the bus which is cordoned off. We go to training in through gates which are cordoned off, back on the bus, back to the hotel.

“The hotel staff are the only people, cooking food or behind the desk, they’re the only ones you might have contact with.

“Looking at it from a media point of view, with a lot of teams getting cases it’s rife over here – this is an upset that I’m sure the management have planned for.

“I don’t think it’s overly surprising given the amount of cases and how readily it’s spreading, but for the guys to pitch up the way they did I’m really proud.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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