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Courtney Lawes has his Lions say after recent Henderson criticism

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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Courtney Lawes has sidestepped recent criticism from Iain Henderson that he was only selected due to favouritism rather than form during the recent Lions tour which ended in a 2-1 series defeat to the Springboks in Cape Town. Henderson went on the trip as one of the form Ireland players at the end of the Guinness Six Nations but he was overlooked for the Test series.   

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This was in contrast to Lawes who missed most of England’s miserable Six Nations through injury, yet he went on to start all three Lions Tests in South Africa at blindside. Not getting a run grated with Henderson, who recently singled out how Lawes was a favoured Gatland pick despite his lack of games in 2021.  

A bit of evidence of that would be Courtney Lawes, for example. Hadn’t played a lot of rugby, was injured going in, missed a lot of rugby, comes in as a bit of a surprise maybe and starts all three Tests,” claimed Henderson when interviewed on BBC Sport Northern Ireland’s Ulster Rugby Show.

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Courtney Lawes guests on RugbyPass All Access
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Courtney Lawes guests on RugbyPass All Access

“Don’t get me wrong, Courtney is a class player and he probably deserved to be playing, but that would lead you to believe that he [Gatland] wasn’t picking on who was on form at that stage because Courtney had already banked his form from before. He [Gatland] told me I had trained really well, played really well and it unfortunately just didn’t work out the way I wanted it to be… at the end of the day it’s the top dog’s decision and I wasn’t there.”

Lawes made his post-Lions returning to playing with a 25-minute appearance off the Northampton bench in last Saturday’s Gallagher Premiership win over London Irish, but he opted not to directly dwell on Henderson’s comments during an appearance on this week’s edition of The Rugby Pod.

In reviewing the Lions tour, Lawes said: “I don’t pay much attention to that kind of stuff. I rarely read rugby news, any kind of rugby news, because people have an opinion and everyone’s opinion is different so give your opinion if people want to hear it, that’s absolutely fine. No problem with me but it is going to go straight over my head regardless of what it is.”

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Lawes admitted he was unsure of where he stood in the run-up to the early May squad announcement as he never received the ‘Save the Date’ email that other players in Lions contention were sent. “A few emails got sent about to loads of people and as far as I know I didn’t get one,” he explained.

“I was thinking that it means I’m nowhere near the squad… or I am in, do you know what I mean? It was a kind of save the date thing. I’d played two games for England before I got injured again and hadn’t played before the Lions team got picked, so I wasn’t too confident in my chances but I knew playing South Africa and with my experience, there was always a chance.

“I was just thankful to be given the opportunity to start and to be able to play a Lions Test. I wasn’t feeling too much pressure. Obviously, there were a bit of nerves and stuff but I was quite excited to go out and play and I knew that I could perform at that level. I didn’t feel like I had too much to worry about.

“Personally we should have won it. It was there for the taking but rugby can happen like that and especially that last Test, it was the flip of a coin. A couple of decisions, a couple of balls bouncing either way and that game is a completely different game. We were disappointed but I was happy to be there and give everything I had and I thought that is what I did. I wasn’t too disappointed personally but as a team, it was disappointing to lose.”

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Asked about the criticism of South Africa’s style of play, Lawes replied: “They play to their strengths. What more can you ask for them? They are a big team, they want a slow game, they want to kick the ball and they want you to knock it on so they can scrum you and then they want to maul you and that’s the game plan. If you let them do it they are going to beat you and it’s up to you as a team to change that game.”

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