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Ryan misses out but 'point of difference' Henderson makes Lions squad

Steve Borthwick says Henderson’s ability to cover six was attractive for the Lions.
Apr 19th 2017, 3:16 PM 16,079 12

Murray Kinsella reports from Syon Park, London

DONNACHA RYAN WAS one of those to miss out in a fierce battle for second row places in the Lions squad to tour New Zealand, with Warren Gatland opting to bring five locks.

The Munster and Ireland man has had a superb season and speculation in recent days suggested that Ryan would make Gatland’s final squad.

However, he has been ommitted along with the likes of England’s Joe Launchbury and Scotland pair Richie and Jonny Gray. Named in the Lions squad instead are Alun-Wyn Jones, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Courtney Lawes and Iain Henderson.

Iain Henderson Henderson will be a Lion. Source: Presseye/Philip Magowan/INPHO

“There was a lot of discussion around it,” said forwards coach Steve Borthwick of the omissions of Ryan and Launchbury. “It’s a position where we’re blessed with a lot of competition for places.

“Those two guys [Ryan and Launchbury] are outstanding players and they’ve proven that. But you’ve got to pick the squad and some top-quality players are going to miss out. We believe the players we’ve selected, Courtney Lawes is playing some of the best rugby of his career.

“The athleticism and work-rate of Maro Itoje and Alun-Wyn Jones, Iain Henderson, the lineout ability of George Kruis – we believe we’ve got the strength of players that are the right ones for what we need down in New Zealand.”

While there has been disappointment among Irish fans that Ryan will not travel with the Lions this summer, barring any injuries in the second row, Ulsterman Henderson is an exciting inclusion after finishing the Six Nations on a high with Ireland.

The 25-year-old was superb against England on the final day of the championship, and the Lions also like his ability to play at blindside flanker.

“From a personal perspective, he was one player when we played Ireland in Dublin before the last World Cup, he really caused us problems,” said Gatland.

“He caused us problems as a ball carrier, so I had a lot of respect for him from that. The last [Six Nations] game against England, he fulfilled a role in terms of calling the lineouts and that’s important for us, having players capable of doing that.

Iain Henderson Source: Presseye/Philip Magowan/INPHO

“He’s a point of difference, he’s a big man, he’s physical. He’s versatile if we need him to play in the back row. He’s earned his position and he’s a guy who wouldn’t have been on everyone’s list, but he pushed himself forward and won his position for Ireland.

“He took over from Devin Toner, who has done a great job for Ireland, and called that lineout. He deserves his selection and work hard for it.”

Indeed, the ability of Itoje and Lawes to cover the six shirt made them even more attractive for the Lions, with Gatland and his coaches stressing that versatility was keen on what will be an attritional tour.

“They’ve got that versatility and especially on a tour like this, that’s valuable,” said Borthwick. “They can play in the back row and that’s very useful.”

Meanwhile, the Lions insist that Wales second row Jones is on track to recover from a shoulder injury as expected, despite speculation that his rehabilitation has been slower than first envisaged.

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Murray Kinsella

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