Henderson: Gatland picked favourites, not form
He also criticised the Springbok-like tactics favoured by the New Zealander. who presided over a 2 – 1 defeat to the World Champions on South African soil in August.
The Ulster second row came into the Lions tour arguably the form second row in the Guinness Six Nations, but didn’t feature in Gatland’s plan for the Test series, missing out on all three matches, despite featuring against South Africa ‘A’.
The miraculous return of the Alun Wyn Jones to the camp after a shoulder dislocation against Japan in Murrayfield in the first match of the tour may have sealed Henderson’s fate, with the Welsh legend leap-frogging straight back into the Test squad.
“I would tend to agree with that statement,” said Henderson, when asked by former Ireland teammates Rory Best and Tommy Bowe if he Gatland’s leaned toward familiarity with certain players as opposed to form on BBC Sport NI’s Ulster Rugby Show.
“Courtney Lawes, for example, hadn’t played a lot of rugby, was injured going in, missed a lot of rugby, comes in and starts all three tests.
“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 the stage, because Courtney had already banked his form from before.
“He Gatland told me I had trained really well, played really well and unfortunately it just didn’t work out the way I wanted it to be.
“I wouldn’t be one to go nagging coaches. In my opinion, I go about my business and do what I can on the training pitch.
“I kind of feel among a lot of the staff and squad they felt similarly, but at the end of the day it’s the top dog’s decision and I wasn’t there.”
Henderson was also circumspect about Gatland’s tactics, say the Lions tried to out Springboks the Springboks.
“You could play South Africa’s game-plan against the Sharks or someone like that and whenever you get however many points up, you’re winning the 50-50s, the slap-downs become a 50m try and all of a sudden people go ‘well they’re playing free-flowing rugby today’,” Henderson said.
“Before you know it, you’re trying to beat South Africa at their own game. South Africa just won a World Cup doing their own game. They’re incredible at it.
“Falling into what they’re incredibly good at I think is something a team probably shouldn’t try to do playing a team like that.”
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