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Iain Henderson makes huge Lions statement in second Test audition

Rory Best and CJ Stander were strong too, but Robbie Henshaw was injured in the first half.

Murray Kinsella reports from Westpac Stadium

THE LIONS DREW their final midweek game of the tour of New Zealand, coming out with a share of the spoils against the Hurricanes on a 31-31 scoreline.

Read our match report here, but below we examine the performances of the Irish players involved.

Iain Henderson 

The Ulsterman made a huge statement for the Lions, with a performance full of powerful ball-carrying, good decisions and real leadership. His yellow card proved to be decisive in the outcome, but this was a superb display.

[image alt="Iain Henderson" src="http://cdn.thejournal.ie/media/2017/06/iain-henderson-56-630x414.jpg" width="630" height="414" title="" class="alignnone" /end]

Though it was Courtney Lawes who was replaced after 54 minutes of this contest after another excellent outing – suggesting the English lock will play in the second Test this weekend – Henderson has done all he could to earn a spot against the All Blacks.

The Irishman’s dynamic power is certainly attractive off the bench for Warren Gatland, particularly with Maro Itoje set to be in the starting XV this weekend. Henderson can provide real impact as a replacement.

The 25-year-old showed he can bring huge impact over the course of 80 minutes in Wellington, with his ball-carrying particularly superb, repeatedly taking him through tackles.

He had a big block down on the 50-minute mark as the momentum of the game threatened to swing against the Lions, with a stunning carry right over Brad Shields following three minutes later, just before he had a possible try chalked off.

In the first half, it was Henderson’s clever pass that freed George North to score an important try, the lock delivering his second assist of this tour with lovely skill and great intelligence.

Unfortunately for Henderson, his evening was disrupted by a deserved yellow card for tipping Jordie Barrett over in a clearout with around 15 minutes remaining, but this was an excellent night for the Ulsterman overall.

CJ Stander

Once again, the Munster number eight was a primary ball carrier and he thundered into contact 16 times with ball in hand.

[image alt="CJ Stander before the game" src="http://cdn.thejournal.ie/media/2017/06/cj-stander-before-the-game-2-630x428.jpg" width="630" height="428" title="" class="alignnone" /end]

Stander was busy defensively too and his lively performance gives Gatland more food for thought with his Test selection in the coming two weeks. Stander’s burly ball-carrying ability and energy might prove valuable against the All Blacks.

An ankle injury late on in the season for Munster was badly-timed for the Ireland international, but he has shown enough in the midweek games on this tour to suggest he is very much in the selection mix moving forward.

Robbie Henshaw

This has not been Robbie Henshaw’s tour and it may have been ended by injury in the first half, as the Leinster man departed in obvious pain clutching his shoulder.

[image alt="Robbie Henshaw" src="http://cdn.thejournal.ie/media/2017/06/robbie-henshaw-120-395x500.jpg" width="395" height="500" title="" class="aligncenter" /end]

If it is to prove Henshaw’s last action in New Zealand, he will head home with major frustrations at how things have worked out for him. He got ‘trapped’ in the midweek side from early on and although he was strong individually, he suffered from being in the weaker Lions teams.

His defensive work has been particularly brilliant on this tour, but going forward it hasn’t quite fallen Henshaw’s way.

Speaking immediately after the game, Gatland confirmed that Henshaw is now in a sling and “there’s a good chance his tour is over.”

Rory Best

The Ireland captain showed his leadership when he stuck up for Dan Biggar in the first half, shoving Ngani Laumape when he stood over the Lions out-half following a thumping collision between the pair as the Hurricanes centre scored.

[image alt="Rory Best speaks to the team before the game" src="http://cdn.thejournal.ie/media/2017/06/rory-best-speaks-to-the-team-before-the-game-4-630x449.jpg" width="630" height="449" title="" class="alignnone" /end]

Best was one of the tougher elements of this Lions pack throughout and he competed well at the breakdown, which was refereed rather differently by Romain Poite than what we had seen last weekend in Auckland.

The Lions’ lineout won five out of five on Best’s throw, another green tick alongside his name. It’s difficult to see Gatland dropping Jamie George and replacement Test hooker Ken Owens for the second Test, but Best has at least asked a question ahead of the final selection meeting.

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Murray Kinsella

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