Iain Henderson has criticised the tactics used by the British and Irish Lions in their series defeat to South Africa and also claims Warren Gatland selected on reputation rather than form.
The Lions seized a 1-0 lead in a dismal series but lost the next two Tests with head coach Gatland subsequently criticised for using a limited gameplan against the equally conservative world champions.
It was only with the injured-enforced arrival of Finn Russell 10 minutes into the decider that South Africa were stretched and even though the pivotal game was conceded 19-16, it 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 touring party to publicly denounce the lack of imagination that worked against their provincial opponents but played into into the Springboks’ hands.
“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 50 metre-try and all of a sudden people go ‘well they’re playing free-flowing 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 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.”
It was Henderson’s second Lions tour but despite his imposing form during the Six Nations and predictions he would be involved in the series, he was overlooked in favour of rival back five forward Courtney Lawes.
Lawes was outstanding but he missed three of months of last season with a pectoral injury, making his comeback in the latter 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.
“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 bit of a surprise maybe 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 that stage, because Courtney had already banked his form from before.
“He 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.”