Tuesday 31 January 2023 Dublin: 8°C
Billy Stickland/INPHO Alun Wyn Jones arrives at Lions camp today.
# Returns
Henshaw, Hogg, and Alun Wyn Jones out to prove points for the Lions
The trio return from injury and isolation against the Stormers on Saturday.

WHILE OTHERS HAVE been furthering their cases for Lions Test selection, Robbie Henshaw has been quietly working away in the background, getting his hamstring right. 

The Ireland international hasn’t been seen since the Japan game over three weeks ago due to the frustrating strain, but he is finally set to return on Saturday against the Stormers.

Having shone in the number 13 shirt against Japan, Henshaw makes his comeback at number 12 this weekend as he gets the last chance to impress a week before the first Tests against the Springboks.

Bundee Aki, Chris Harris, and Elliot Daly have shown their qualities in midfield while Henshaw has been sidelined but it’s worth remembering just how good the Athlone man has been all season.

He came into this Lions tour as one of the most in-form backs in the world, his ball-carrying, tackling, defensive work-rate, offloading, passing, communication, and aerial skills all in superb shape.

While the hamstring issue has robbed him of some of the momentum he had built up, it was perhaps telling that Lions boss Warren Gatland didn’t rush him back from injury. The Leinster man was keen to play last night against South Africa A but he has instead been held back for the weekend.

The midfield is just one of the areas where Gatland probably still has to completely make up his mind in regards to his Test selection, so Henshaw’s return is timely. If he can pick up where he left off, it’s hard to see Gatland leaving him out of the Test side.

“Robbie Henshaw had a fantastic Six Nations and we’re looking forward to him getting back on the park and hopefully putting his hand up,” said Gatland today.

robbie-henshaw-172021 Billy Stickland / INPHO Henshaw is set to make his return. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Meanwhile, Scotland skipper Stuart Hogg makes his return from enforced isolation after being identified as a close contact of a Covid-19 case in the Lions’ management team last week.

Hogg has had real frustration watching on from his hotel room and he too has only played once so far in this campaign. Many people had Hogg nailed-on for the number 15 shirt before the tour but it has been a tough time for him. He needs to impress as the captain on Saturday.

“Stuart has been a little bit unlucky in the last couple of Lions tours given the eye injury in 2017 which put him out of the series and then being a close contact with Covid which has kept him out for a couple of games,” said Gatland. “It’s good to have him back and he’ll be ready and raring to go.”

There’s another big name set for his second Lions appearance on Saturday, with tour captain Alun Wyn Jones returning on the bench after overcoming the shoulder injury against Japan that had initially appeared to rule him out of the tour.

The 35-year-old Welshman will be eager to underline to Gatland that he is fully match fit as he looks to nail down a Test spot.

“We feel that if he’s going to put himself in contention, he needs 20 minutes,” said Gatland. “So we had that conversation with him. He has travelled and arrived today but if he’s in contention for next week, he needs to have a run.

“If someone comes off [early], he’s ready to go. We wouldn’t have brought him out unless he was 100% fit. That was part of the thing that he went back to Wales, rehabbed, has been taking a full part in Welsh training.

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“We’ve been looking very closely at a number of videos of Welsh training sessions he has taken a part in. If the medical team hadn’t passed him fully fit, he wouldn’t be here.”

marcus-smith Billy Stickland / INPHO Marcus Smith will be at 10 this weekend. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

22-year-old Harlequins out-half Marcus Smith will make his Lions debut against the Stormers just two weeks after winning his first cap for England and three after guiding his club to a Premiership title.

With Finn Russell still sidelined by an Achilles tendon injury, Dan Biggar nursing a minor ankle injury, and Owen Farrell having played at 10 last night against South Africa A, Smith starts as Hogg provides out-half cover.

“He’s a young man, he’s incredibly enthusiastic and a bit of a sponge in terms of soaking up all the knowledge and talking to players within the group,” said Gatland of Smith.

“There’s no doubt he’s got some real attacking prowess, he’s matured significantly and we’re really excited about him having an opportunity to start. I think we were initially looking at him coming off the bench but the message to him is just to go out there and enjoy the occasion and make the most of it and make a few people sit up and take notice.”

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