Iain Henderson has criticized the tactics used by the British and Irish Lions in their series loss to South Africa and also claims Warren Gatland was selected on reputation rather than form.
The Lions took a 1-0 lead in a dismal streak but lost the next two tests with head coach Gatland later criticized for using a limited game plan against the equally conservative world champions.
It wasn’t until the forced arrival of Finn Russell 10 minutes after the start of the deciding match that South Africa was put to the test and even though the deciding match was conceded 19-16, he offered a glimpse of what might have been.
Henderson, who captained Ireland in the Six Nations in the absence of Johnny Sexton, is the first member of Gatland’s tour to publicly denounce the lack of imagination that played against their provincial opponents but made the Springboks game.
“You can play South Africa‘s game plan against the Sharks or someone like that and every time you get that many points you win the 50-50, the slaps become a 50-yard try and everything. suddenly people are ‘fine, playing smooth rugby today,’ ”Henderson told BBC Sport NI’s ‘Ulster Rugby Show’.
“Before you know it you’re trying to beat South Africa at their own game. South Africa just won a World Cup by making their own game. They’re amazing at that.
“I think falling into what they’re incredibly good at is something a team probably shouldn’t be trying to face against a team like that. “
It was Henderson’s second Lions tour, but despite his towering form during the Six Nations and predictions that he would be involved in the series, he was overlooked in favor of five-a-side rival Courtney Lawes.
Lawes was exceptional, but missed three of last season’s months with a chest injury, making his comeback in the later stages of the Gallagher Premiership.
When asked if Gatland was a “guy who had his guys,” Henderson said, “I would tend to agree with that statement.
“Proof of that would be Courtney Lawes, for example. Hadn’t played much rugby, got injured early on, missed a lot of rugby, maybe comes as a surprise and begins all three tests.
“Don’t get me wrong, Courtney is a class player and he probably deserved to play, but that would lead you to believe he [Gatland] wasn’t looking into who was in good shape at this point, as Courtney had already banked her form before.
“He told me that I had trained really well, played really well and unfortunately it just didn’t work out the way I wanted it to.
“I wouldn’t be the type to harass the coaches. In my opinion, I go about my business and do what I can on the training ground.
“I kind of feel among a lot of the staff and the team, they felt the same, but at the end of the day it’s the best dog’s decision and I wasn’t there.”