WESTPAC STADIUM, Wellington — Iain Henderson had muddled emotions after Tuesday night’s game in Wellington. As he sat in the sin-bin and watched the Hurricanes run in two tries to cancel out the British & Irish Lions’ 14-point lead, his mind would have been racing.
Up to the 66th minute, Henderson was magnificent against the Hurricanes, then one mistimed tackle — perhaps some red mist — and he was banished to the most solitary of seats.
The sin-bin is a curious place. There you are in plain sight, you have your back to the crowd, perched on a casually placed seat, re-living the moment that got you banished to the naughty step. The hope is your teammates rally round and keep the opposition out; the reality for Henderson was his tip tackle on Jordie Barrett became a costly mistake.
The true significance of the draw between the British & Irish Lions and Hurricanes will only be put into perspective for the tourists at the end of the series.
The British & Irish Lions face a gruelling 10-game tour of New Zealand, including three Tests against the All Blacks. ESPN will be there with full, up-to-date coverage every step of the way.
But against the backdrop of this yellow card, only over the next couple of weeks will it become apparent if it hurt his Test chances. He was playing wonderfully until he grabbed Barrett’s right leg and manoeuvred him onto his back. Warren Gatland has made a big deal of discipline on the tour, and such moments are taken into consideration.
“It was stupid and probably a little bit of miss-timed rucking, I would describe it as,” Henderson said. “It was definitely hard for me sitting there and watching those 10 minutes, and putting the guys in that tough position. However we came back at the end there and we were trying to put a bit of pressure on there, but that’s the way it goes, isn’t it?”
Gatland himself said it was “too early” to draw any conclusions from Henderson’s yellow, instead focusing on how well he had played to that point. “He carried extremely well and that was a big positive,” was Gatland’s take.
For Henderson, he now faces a nervous wait. The coaches are set to tell the players on Thursday morning who will be selected to face the All Blacks in the second Test.
It has been a tour that started slowly for the Ulsterman. He struggled against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians, but then so did the rest of the team. His next chance to impress came from the bench against the Blues and he then started against the Highlanders, Chiefs and Hurricanes while playing 20 minutes from the replacements against the Maori All Blacks.
He has been there or thereabouts with the Test matchday squad, and his impressive performance against the ‘Canes will have done his chances no harm. But then there is the yellow card.
Iain Henderson of the Lions is shown a yellow card by Referee Romain Poite. David Rogers/Getty Images
“I’ve got a few lucky bounces of the ball, for the pass to George [North] and stuff,” Henderson said. “I was happy enough. I got a bit of ball in hand. However, it was probably over-shadowed by the silliness of the yellow card.”
Having played 70 minutes against the Hurricanes — Gatland was unwilling to use the ‘geography six’ unless it was essential — Henderson will need a day or two to get his breath back. But aged 25, this is his first Lions tour and the honour is carrying him through.
“There’s always a lot left for a couple more games,” Henderson said. “For games of this magnitude I don’t think a bit of soreness in the legs really comes much into the mind.
“The boys will definitely be straight into recovery. They’re already in the ice baths in the changing rooms getting ready, getting compression in the legs, making sure that they’re prepared as can be, whether it’s for training tomorrow or the next day, to make sure that this Test team will be firing on all cylinders come Saturday.”
Iain Henderson takes on the challenge of the Hurricanes’ Brad Shields. David Rogers/Getty Images
And then when it comes down to the emotion of whether he has been picked, or will be in the stands of the Westpac, Henderson will be able to reflect on a journey where he will have learned a huge amount about himself. There are two Tests left, do not bet against seeing him feature at some stage.
“I think it would be ideal to be in that Test squad,” Henderson said. “However, the boys are all massively proud to be here. I don’t think it’s all about that.
“We’re all going to be backing that Test team. Maybe looking back it might be frustrating, but as soon as we hear that Test team on Thursday we’ll knuckle down behind the boys and leave our emotions aside.
“Prepping the boys is all we can do to make sure that they and us, as an extended squad, get the series win.”
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