‘One or two headaches for Warren’ as Irish players put hands up for Lions

Updated Mar 21st 2021, 9:42 AM

WARREN GATLAND WILL have been impressed with what he saw from a host of Irish players yesterday as they dominated England to finish their Six Nations on a major high.

There were superb performances throughout Andy Farrell’s team in the 32-18 victory, with some players continuing the excellent form they have delivered across the course of this championship.

“Warren came in during the week and watched our training session and it was a great tonic for us,” said Ireland head coach Farrell after his team’s victory.

“There were a lot of good individual performances in this competition and some lads have just carried that on, and there’ll be one or two more headaches for Warren after that game.”

Robbie Henshaw has been excellent since rugby resumed last August and topped his long streak of good form with a remarkably influential performance against the English that featured choke tackles, defenders beaten, aerial contests, high-quality tackles and an infectious level of intent.

Having toured with the Lions in 2017 and had a frustrating experience, he looks like being in the Test mix this summer if a series against the Springboks is finally confirmed.

Gatland might not have initially seen Tadhg Beirne as a certainty to be part of his squad this summer but the Munster man now looks exactly that after a brilliant Six Nations in which he thrived in the second row and at blindside flanker. His unique skillset can be game-changing. 

Iain Henderson returned from injury in time for this Six Nations and has played some of the best rugby of his career in recent weeks, consistently applying his athleticism and intelligence to deliver outstanding displays. He will be a contender to start Tests, having had a similar experience to Henshaw last time around in 2017. James Ryan, who missed out yesterday due to a head injury, will also be in the Lions mix.

Iain Henderson and CJ Stander on the 2017 tour. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

As for the Lions’ starting halfbacks from that tour of New Zealand, Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton used yesterday to remind Gatland that they remain superb players when at their best. Both will have their targets set on this summer’s Lions series, while CJ Stander – another 2017 tourist, winning one Test cap off the bench – would love to finish his professional career by facing his native South Africa. 

Meanwhile, Tadhg Furlong has been in excellent form in this championship after almost a year out of action. He looks nailed-on to be the Lions’ starting tighthead again this year.

Peter O’Mahony’s red card and suspension didn’t help his chances of furthering his case in this Six Nations and it will be interesting to see how Gatland views a player he selected as captain for the first Test in New Zealand and then dropped completely for the remaining two.  

Keith Earls was a Lion all the way back in 2009 but his performances over the past fortnight have been top class and what of possible new Irish Lions? Hugo Keenan has been solidity personified and made a big play in leaping to gather Johnny Sexton’s kick in the build-up to Jack Conan’s try yesterday. Jacob Stockdale can be lethal on his day.

Conan probably caught Gatland’s eye with a skillful and dynamic performance at number eight, while Ryan Baird has shown his potential off the Ireland bench in recent weeks and could be a bolter. Loosehead prop Cian Healy rolled back the years as a replacement against the English, while Andrew Porter has played lots of good rugby this season.

Garry Ringrose was missing yesterday but will be in the Lions mix, while flanker Will Connors has suffered an unfortunate knee injury that could ruin his bolter possibilities. Joey Carbery is now back playing and is a player of interest to Gatland.

There is plenty of rugby still ahead this season, so lots can change. In 2017, Gatland announced his Lions squad on 19 April but he has yet to even name his coaching staff this year amidst the uncertainty about the tour actually going ahead.

Johnny Sexton is aiming to go on his third Lions tour. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

As for Ireland, they’re also uncertain of what comes next and whether this summer’s tour to the Pacific Islands will go ahead. Farrell was happy to finish this campaign on a big high.

“To get that result against a very good side like England and to get the performance like we did just reiterates a few things doesn’t it, for the next time that we meet up,” said Farrell.

“We’ll keep in contact between now and then but like we always say, we feel that we are on the upwards regarding our own game coming together behind the scenes but if that translates to the field at the weekend is obviously debatable, but we just solidified for us that we’re on the right track so it was a chance to highlight that but we need to keep improving as well.”