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Henderson frustrated by 'stupid' yellow after putting himself in Test frame

The 25-year-old Ulsterman was outstanding before being sent to the sin bin.

Murray Kinsella reports from Wellington

IT ALL SEEMED to be going perfectly for Iain Henderson on his final audition for inclusion in the Lions’ second Test against the All Blacks, as the Ulsterman carried to devastating effect, hammered into tackles and even provided an assist for George North.

With each minute of the clash with the Hurricanes, Henderson’s Test prospects increased, but then the momentum swung against him in the closing half hour of the game.

Romain Poite shows a yellow card to Iain Henderson Henderson was sent to the bin in the final quarter. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

First, the Lions withdrew the in-form Courtney Lawes on the 54-minute mark, strongly suggesting that the England lock will be involved against the All Blacks on Saturday in Wellington.

And then, just over 10 minutes later Henderson was sent to the sin bin for tipping Jordie Barrett over in a clearout.

Worryingly for Henderson, when Warren Gatland was asked to rate Henderson’s performance, the Lions boss focused almost solely on the damaging effect of the yellow card.

The Lions led 31-17 when Henderson was yellow carded and conceded 14 points during his 10-minute stint in the bin to give up their lead.

He carried fantastically well,” said Gatland. “It was a big moment in the game with his yellow card. It was a penalty to us which ends up being a penalty reversed and a yellow card and that’s the game. It was a crucial moment.

“It’s disappointing because you’re in so much control of it. We went from 68% territory to about 25%, so it was a massive swing in the game and disappointing that we ended up with the yellow card, particularly when the referee looked at it and thought it was a penalty.

“He was asked to look at different angles and then eventually made the decision to give a yellow card.”

Asked if Henderson’s yellow card could end the Ulster lock’s hopes of being part of the Lions’ match day 23 for the second Test, Gatland said it was “a bit early to look at that.”

Iain Henderson with Brad Shields Henderson's ball carrying was exceptional. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

However, Henderson won’t have taken great confidence from Gatland’s review of his performance.

“Sometimes players are unlucky in doing that and he’s probably disappointed with himself,” said Gatland. “Look, he carried extremely well and that was a big positive.

“I thought Courtney Lawes carried well too in the first-half. It’s a position right from the start where we knew we had a lot of strength. It’s a toss-up in terms of selection.”

The Lions are set to name their second Test squad at 1.30am Irish time on Thursday, and Henderson will be among those waiting nervously to learn whether he is part of that selection.

In reviewing his own performance, the 25-year-old was also fixated on his sin binning.

“I think it was definitely an enjoyable game to play in, for the 70 minutes I played, but that yellow was frustrating,” said Henderson.

“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.”

Aside from that moment, Henderson’s performance was truly outstanding as he carried the ball 13 times for gains of almost 50 metres, beating defenders and making three clean breaks along the way.

His defensive performance was solid too and Henderson can be content that in the time he was on the pitch, he showed Gatland just how impactful he can be.

Iain Henderson and Rory Best Henderson is hopeful his tour isn't over. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“Look, it’s Tuesday of a Test week – obviously there’s places 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,” said Henderson of his chances of being selected.

“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.”

Henderson had a poor start to the tour with an underperformance in the opening game against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians, but he has been excellent ever since.

“I’ve got a few lucky bounces of the ball, for the pass to George [North] and stuff,” he said. “I was happy enough, I got a bit of ball in hand. However, it was probably over-shadowed by the silliness of the yellow card.”

That yellow, along with Gatland’s words, will leave strong doubts in Henderson’s mind over the next couple of days, and it could yet be that his playing involvement on this tour has finished with the draw against the Hurricanes.

“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,” said Henderson.

“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.’”

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Murray Kinsella

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