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British & Irish Lions

Henderson feeling at home already after quickly finding Lions groove

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Photo By Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile via Getty Images

But even the Irish lock has been surprised by just how quickly the players who travelled to New Zealand have found their groove again, making four years seem like a matter of days.

Henderson did not make an appearance in the Test team against the All Blacks but wore the famous red jersey on six occasions as he became a regular in the midweek side.

He will be looking to earn his first Test cap against Japan on Saturday and ahead of the much-anticipated fixture, Lion #808 believes the players have benefitted from a smoother build-up.

“I think everyone’s excitement was already building towards the end of the season and you could tell everyone was buzzing to meet up,” the 29-year-old said.

“The training over the last week didn’t disappoint, a lot of lads were chomping at the bit to get out there on the pitch. It was very tough but we got a lot out of it.

“The guys who were there (in New Zealand) four years ago have ‘re-gelled’ really quickly. We have a few different coaches now, but it is very similar.

“At this point on the last Tour, we would be coming together for two or three days, splitting up then coming back together. So it was quite disjointed and didn’t really feel like the Tour had started.

Player Profile: Iain Henderson

“Whereas this time around, on Sunday there was already a definite feel the Tour had started and the journey had begun. Last time 15 were there at the start, but it is around the mid-20s this time.

“A huge majority of the squad have been able to get on-board already, so it’ll be tough for the guys just coming in, but I have no doubt they will catch up quickly.

“I think having everyone here and spending time together, going for dinner, a few pints and getting to know each other is vital to making things click on-and-off the field, which is key to any Lions Tour.”

The Lions face the Brave Blossoms this Saturday, June 26, at BT Murrayfield in front of a crowd of 16,500 fans, in what will be a first home fixture for the team since 2005.

Their first game on South African soil is just seven days later, against Emirates Lions in Johannesburg.

Although the success of the class of 2021 won’t be defined in the game against Japan, Henderson insists the squad won’t underestimate the side, who beat both Ireland and Scotland at the last World Cup.

Henderson added: “Everyone is dying to get underway, but at this stage I think everyone is also aligned in their goals, we’re not fighting for the jersey at the minute, we’re working well together.

“For this first game, we know Japan are a huge threat. They have a different style to South Africa, but the level of intensity will be high and it will be a massive test for us.

Furlong: We’re not the finished article yet but it’s an open process

“If we forget about them we’ll find ourselves in a difficult place.”

The Ulster captain is more mature than during the last Tour. He skippered his country for the first time and impressed generally during the Six Nations, a campaign the Irish finished well, with wins over England, Scotland and Italy.

He also won his clubs’ Personality of the Year award, a sign of the positive influence he will have on the Lions group.

High spirits and positive attitudes in the camp will be more important than ever, with the absence of the usual hordes of travelling fans.

Yet Henderson doesn’t think it will affect the mentality of the team when the first Test rolls around.

“Most of us haven’t heard a crowd cheer for well over a year now. So we’re really looking forward to having fans in BT Murrayfield. It will be phenomenal,” the adaptable Irishman added.

“In South Africa it will be different, there is uncertainty about numbers allowed in, if any.

“So this Lions Tour will be different, but the guys who have played in Six Nations and with clubs this season, are well used to dealing with adverse conditions.

“I would hope that anyone who may be affected by this can put it behind them and bring their best rugby on the pitch. We’ve all played with no crowds and the weird atmosphere that brings, so we’ll all be used to it.

“Being here on the last Tour (in New Zealand) makes you a little less nervous, and you slip back in with the guys from then pretty quickly.

“You also know what it is like for a new player, so you can make them feel as welcome and as comfortable as possible, which hopefully helps us on the pitch.”

Source – British & Irish Lions

by Jack Lacey-Hatton

21 June 2021 17:54 Reading Time: 4 mins

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British & Irish Lions

Jones vows Lions will “put it right” in final Test

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Photo by Dan Sheridan - Pool/Getty Images

The Lions were given a taste of their own medicine in the rematch, having staged a second-half comeback against the world champions to win the series opener 22-17.

South Africa were trailing 9-6 at the break at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday but scored 21 unanswered points in the second half to triumph 27-9 and level the series.

And while Jones conceded that the Lions were their own worst enemy in the second half, he believes the tourists will bounce back after asking themselves some tough questions.

“There was an obvious momentum shift. We were second best in the aerial battle and they got momentum from getting to the corners,” said the Lions skipper.

“Their set piece turned up more this week and put us under pressure and there was probably too much momentum for us to shift it back.

“From the outside it probably felt like a backlash but from where I’m sitting, we probably didn’t help ourselves. Parts of the game that were prevalent and positive last week weren’t there.

“That was particularly the case in the second half. We are fortunate, we have another week. It’s the biggest week of the Tour now and the last chance to put it right.”

Three penalties from Dan Biggar to Handre Pollard’s two gave the Lions a narrow lead at the interval as they looked to secure a first series win on South African soil since 1997.

Tries from Makazole Mapimpi and Lukhanyo Am turned the game on its head, however, while three more penalties from Pollard ensured the Boks levelled the series.

For Jones, the areas for improvement were clear to see in the second half as the Lions struggled to wrestle back momentum after conceding the first South African try.

“We had a bit of pressure early on and chased aerially too hard. We did well last week at stifling the maul on the deck and it’s something we need to look at,” said Jones.

“It was probably a by-product of the positive pressure we had early on in the game. We just need to stick to the plan. We were well aware of what they were going to improve on.

“They probably did to us what we wanted to do to them. They tried to do it last week, they just did it better [this week] and we saw more of it.

“From our lack of maintaining possession in key areas and giving away penalties, we gave them a roll on down the field. You can’t do that against any team, let alone the Springboks.”

The Lions will now have to do it the hard way if they want to secure only a third series win in South Africa since the beginning of the 20th century.

But Jones has seen enough in the eyes of his teammates in the post-game huddle to know that the men in red are more than capable of going again in the third and final Test.

“We got together after the game and we’ll stick together. It’s a squad effort,” he said.

“Gats is notorious for making changes and we’ll go again. There’s been a lot said about wounded Springboks but the Lions have taken a dent today and we need to put that right.

“There was a lot of eye contact and you could feel the fact that everyone is well aware Gats will make changes and there will be opportunities for some.

“I could definitely feel that everyone wants to put it right. They are big weeks. People ask about comparisons to previous Tours but you can’t compare them.

“They are different weeks and different opposition. It will be interesting to see what Gats does with the team. Definitely, it’s going to be a big week.”

Source – British & Irish Lions

by Andy Baber

1 August 2021 22:00 Reading Time: 3 mins

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British & Irish Lions

Lions make 3 changes for 2nd Test v SA

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Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images

British & Irish Lions Head Coach, Warren Gatland, has made three changes to the starting XV which beat the Springboks last Saturday to take a 1-0 lead in the Castle Lager Lions Series.

Conor Murray (Munster Rugby, Ireland), Chris Harris (Gloucester Rugby, Scotland) and Mako Vunipola (Saracens, England) come into the side for the second Test against South Africa at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday 31 July (kick off 5pm BST).

Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys, Wales) is named captain to win his 11th successive Lions Test cap. The Welshman is again partnered by last Saturday’s Castle Lager player of the match, Maro Itoje (Saracens, England).

Vunipola packs down with hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs, England) and Tadhg Furlong (Leinster Rugby, Ireland) to complete the front row.

Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints, England) wins his fourth Lions Test cap on the blind side flank joining Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, England) on the open side and Jack Conan (Leinster Rugby, Ireland) at No. 8.

Dan Biggar (Northampton Saints, Wales), who will play fly-half subject to completing the return-to-play protocol and assessment by an independent concussion consultant, partners scrum-half Murray.

Harris joins Robbie Henshaw (Leinster Rugby, Ireland) in midfield to win his first Test cap, while the back three of Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby, England), Duhan van der Merwe (Worcester Warriors, Scotland) and Stuart Hogg (Exeter Chiefs, Scotland) stays the same.

Taulupe Faletau (Bath Rugby, Wales) is added to a bench and will win his fifth Test cap should he enter the fray.

Historically, the Lions have lost just two Series after winning the first Test (against New Zealand in 1930 and Australia in 2001).

“As always, selection was incredibly tough,” said Gatland. “However, we’ve made the changes we think are the right calls for the weekend’s game.

“It’ll be another tight contest. We know the Springboks will be hurting and they’ll throw everything at us on Saturday, but I think there’s plenty more to come from us too. We feel we can go up another level from where we were in the first Test and I would expect us to improve.

“It’s the biggest game on the Tour and we have to embrace the expectation that comes with it. As players and coaches, these are the games you want to be involved in. We’re relishing the opportunity to face the Springboks again on Saturday and potentially seal a Series win.”

Saturday’s clash against the reigning World Champions is the second of three Tests matches in the Castle Lager Lions Series to be shown live and exclusively on Sky Sports.

SOUTH AFRICA v THE BRITISH & IRISH LIONS

15. Stuart Hogg (Exeter Chiefs, Scotland) #783

14. Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby, England) #816

13. Chris Harris (Gloucester Rugby, Scotland) #844

12. Robbie Henshaw (Leinster Rugby, Ireland) #824

11. Duhan van der Merwe (Worcester Warriors, Scotland) #841

10. Dan Biggar (Northampton Saints, Wales) #821

9. Conor Murray (Munster Rugby, Ireland) #790

1. Mako Vunipola (Saracens, England) #787

2. Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs, England) #851

3. Tadhg Furlong (Leinster Rugby, Ireland) #818

4. Maro Itoje (Saracens, England) #825

5. Alun Wyn Jones – captain (Ospreys, Wales) #761

6. Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints, England) #826

7. Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, England) #853

8. Jack Conan (Leinster Rugby, Ireland) #839

Replacements:

16. Ken Owens (Scarlets, Wales) #829

17. Rory Sutherland (Worcester Warriors, Scotland) #840

18. Kyle Sinckler (Bristol Bears, England) #814

19. Tadhg Beirne (Munster Rugby, Ireland) #838

20. Taulupe Faletau (Bath Rugby, Wales) #779

21. Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland) #843

22. Owen Farrell (Saracens, England) #780

23. Elliot Daly (Saracens, England) #822

Saturday 31 July 2021

Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town

Kick-off: 5pm (BST)

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British & Irish Lions

Lions team to face Springboks for first Test

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Photo by Dan Sheridan - Pool/Getty Images

Tour captain Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys, Wales) will skipper the Lions having recovered from a dislocated shoulder sustained in the tourists 28-10 win over Japan at Murrayfield Stadium just 24 days ago.

In doing so, the Welsh lock will win his tenth-successive Test cap for the Lions in Cape Town, moving him into an illustrious list of Lions legends to have made 10 Test appearances or more, including Gareth Edwards (10), Graham Price (12), Mike Gibson (12) Dickie Jeeps (13) and Willie-John McBride (17). Jones is the first however to play 10 Tests for the famous touring side in the professional era.

The iconic Welshman will be joined in the second row by Maro Itoje (Saracens, England) who claims his fourth successive Lions Test cap.

Elsewhere, Wyn Jones (Scarlets, Wales), Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs, England) and Tadhg Furlong (Leinster Rugby, Ireland) make up the front row.

Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints, England) packs down on the blind side flank to win his third Lions test appearance, having won his previous two from the bench in the second and third Tests in New Zealand in 2017. Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, England) is named on the open side, with Jack Conan (Leinster Rugby, Ireland) filling the No.8 shirt.

After impressing against the DHL Stormers last Saturday, scrum-half Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland) joins No.10 Dan Biggar (Northampton Saints, Wales) in the half back berths.

Robbie Henshaw (Leinster Rugby, Ireland), who made his comeback from a hamstring injury last weekend, partners Elliot Daly (Saracens, England) in midfield.

Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby, England) wins his fourth Lions Test cap as he takes his spot on the wing opposite Duhan van der Merwe (Worcester Warriors, Scotland), with fellow Scot, Stuart Hogg (Exeter Chiefs, Scotland), rounding off the side at fullback.

The starting XV includes three Scots for the first time since the 1997 Tour to South Africa when current Lions assistant coach, Gregor Townsend, was named alongside Alan Tait and Tom Smith for the first and second Tests.

“In my four Tours as a Lions coach, this was by far the hardest Test selection I have been involved in,” said Gatland.

“We couldn’t have asked for more from the players so far; they’ve all put their hands up and made picking a starting XV incredibly difficult. In truth, we would have been happy with any number of different combinations across the 23, however, we’re very pleased with the side we’ve settled on.

“We know what we’re coming up against on Saturday. It’s going to be an arm wrestle, there’s no doubt about it. We’ll need to front up physically and be ready to go from the first whistle. When we played SA ‘A’ last week we probably took a bit too long to get into the game, something we can’t afford to do that again this weekend.

“We need to make sure we play in the right areas of the field, not give them easy territory and take our chances when they come.

“While the stands will be empty in Cape Town Stadium, we know Lions fans from across the home nations will be cheering us on back home. We’ll do our best to get the win.”

The much-anticipated clash against the reigning World Champions is the first of three Tests matches in the Castle Lager Lions Series to be shown live and exclusively on Sky Sports

SOUTH AFRICA v THE BRITISH & IRISH LIONS

15. Stuart Hogg (Exeter Chiefs, Scotland) #783

14. Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby, England) #816

13. Elliot Daly (Saracens, England) #822

12. Robbie Henshaw (Leinster Rugby, Ireland) #824

11. Duhan van der Merwe (Worcester Warriors, Scotland) #841

10. Dan Biggar (Northampton Saints, Wales) #821

9. Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland) #843

1. Wyn Jones (Scarlets, Wales) #842

2. Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs, England) #851

3. Tadhg Furlong (Leinster Rugby, Ireland) #818

4. Maro Itoje (Saracens, England) #825

5. Alun Wyn Jones – captain (Ospreys, Wales) #761

6. Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints, England) #826

7. Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, England) #853

8.Jack Conan (Leinster Rugby, Ireland) #839

Replacements:

16. Ken Owens (Scarlets, Wales) #829

17. Rory Sutherland (Worcester Warriors, Scotland) #840

18. Kyle Sinckler (Bristol Bears, England) #814

19. Tadhg Beirne (Munster Rugby, Ireland) #838

20. Hamish Watson (Edinburgh Rugby, Scotland) #847

21. Conor Murray (Munster Rugby, Ireland) #790

22. Owen Farrell (Saracens, England) #780

23. Liam Williams (Scarlets, Wales) #833

Saturday 24 July 2021

Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town

Kick-off: 5pm (BST)

Source – British & Irish Lions

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