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Henderson makes impact felt for Lions as Payne has mixed night

CJ Stander started slowly but had some big moments in the 23-22 defeat.

Murray Kinsella reports from Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin

THE LIONS SUFFERED the second defeat of their tour of New Zealand as the Highlanders won 23-22 in dramatic circumstances in Dunedin.

Read our match report here, but below we focus on the Irish players involved.

Jared Payne

The Ulsterman, shifted to fullback for this tie and presented with a real opportunity after Stuart Hogg was ruled out of the tour, had a mixed bag of a performance, with moments of class and a handful of knock-ons.

Jared Payne with Luke Whitelock Source: Photosport/Joe Allison/INPHO

He took his first high ball superbly, and made an impactful try-saving tackle on Waisake Naholo early on. But his handling issues began inside the opening quarter, spilling a clever Teihorangi Walden grubber kick.

Payne couldn’t hold a pass from Kyle Sinckler coming towards half time, even if the tighthead’s pass was slightly behind him after an impressive break, but his control of the backfield was composed for the Lions.

There was another big knock-on just after Sam Warburton’s try, as he attempted to gather the restart with his body square upfield, that error starting a period of Highlanders pressure that ended with Liam Coltman’s try.

Ultimately, Payne is a class player but he doesn’t have a huge amount of rugby under his belt and it showed.

Robbie Henshaw

The Leinster inside centre won some fine gainline in the early exchanges, particularly with one excellent carry off a lineout platform, and he always tends to win metres through contact.

Robbie Henshaw dejected after the game Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Henshaw showed impressive pace in the 28th minute to track back and tackle Tevita Li in the 28th minute, as the Highlanders wing broke clear just after Naholo’s try.

That tackle was part of a robust defensive performance from the Irishman, with a superb tackle earlier in the game on Malakai Fekitoa as the All Blacks centre butchered an overlap.

Henshaw needed big moments to allow him to stand out after Ben Te’o's fine start to this tour as well as the interesting combination between Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell at 10 and 12 against the Crusaders, and this performance included a handful of them.

The 24-year-old would love an opportunity against the Maori All Blacks on Saturday.

Rory Best

The Ulster hooker is a real turnover threat and he produced a vital one at the breakdown just five metres out from the Lions’ tryline in the first half, as Scott McLeod’s side piled on the pressure.

Rory Best dejected after the game Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Luke Whitelock hammered through his tackle early in the second half, but otherwise Best was combative and accurate in contact. His rucking was particularly strong, with a number of excellent hits as the first arrival to the breakdown.

He will have been disappointed with the Lions’ set-piece in Dunedin, and he was replaced relatively early in the second half, Ken Owens coming on with 49 minutes gone – and after Best had spent a short stint in the blood bin in the first half.

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The Lions’ lineout was solid, and Best will hope for another chance to impress against the Maoris in Rotorua.

Iain Henderson

Having underperformed in the tour opener against the Provincial Barbarians, this was a very different story for Henderson.

Iain Henderson tackled by Kayne Hammington Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The Ulster lock was one of the standout players in an excellent game, with his power always helping the Lions get beyond the gainline. His superb carry on the right fringe of the ruck after Rhys Webb’s sniping break in the 47th minute was typical, as Henderson churned through a tackle with great leg drive.

His counter-rucking just in front of the Lions’ tryline in the 59th minute forced a vital turnover to lift the pressure and was emblematic of his performance.

Henderson was all grit and fighting spirit. Though it wasn’t 100% perfect from the 25-year-old, he potentially put himself back into the mix for the Test spots.

CJ Stander

The Munster man didn’t enjoy a good start to this game as he struggled in the opening quarter. He was turned over for a penalty after 20 minutes, having crabbed across the pitch and into space, but Lima Sopoaga missed his penalty.

James Haskell and CJ Stander leave the field after the game Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Just four minutes later, Stander was turned over again when Whitelock made a brilliant chop tackle on him.

But Stander tends to bounce back well from errors and he came up with an excellent offload to Dan Biggar in the build-up to Jonathan Joseph’s first-half try, riding the contact superbly and freeing his hands.

There was also a huge turnover in the closing minutes, allowing the Lions to win the penalty that they opted to kick at goal through Elliot Daly. Stander always makes those big plays, and carries hard, but still Taulupe Faletau looks to be ahead at number eight.

Jack McGrath

The Leinster loosehead got just under 25 minutes off the bench, but the Lions scrum struggled and the huge penalty won by the Highlanders to allow Marty Banks kick the winning points came at the set-piece.

Jack McGrath dejected after the game Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Otherwise, McGrath was solid in chipping in with a handful of carries and some accurate tackles. Mako Vunipola’s performance against the Crusaders was impressive, though, and McGrath will need to show more next time out.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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