Henson absent as Woodward juggles options

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The Lions are nursing more injured players than at any point on this benighted tour, and - wouldn't you just know it? - one of them is Gavin Henson, the extravagantly-coiffured celebrity centre from Wales who, having avoided the stigma of being involved in the first Test shambles in Christchurch at the weekend, now finds himself rooted in the popular imagination as the single-handed saviour of British Isles rugby. Sir Clive Woodward will be under enormous pressure to play him in this Saturday's do-or-die match in Wellington, irrespective of fitness.

The Lions are nursing more injured players than at any point on this benighted tour, and - wouldn't you just know it? - one of them is Gavin Henson, the extravagantly-coiffured celebrity centre from Wales who, having avoided the stigma of being involved in the first Test shambles in Christchurch at the weekend, now finds himself rooted in the popular imagination as the single-handed saviour of British Isles rugby. Sir Clive Woodward will be under enormous pressure to play him in this Saturday's do-or-die match in Wellington, irrespective of fitness.

News of Henson's absence from today's side to play Manawatu, by some distance the weakest team on the Lions' itinerary, blew through the North Island like a gale-force wind, and the tourists were forced to come up with reasons pretty damned quickly - not least because Woodward had openly stated on Sunday that the 23-year-old midfielder would definitely be given the chance to press for a Test place.

Henson was, he said, under treatment for a minor groin injury, but the coach emphasised he remained a "strong contender" for a starting place in the capital in four days time.

It remains to be seen whether Woodward, who fell out with the whole of Wales and a large proportion of the rest of the British Isles when he omitted Henson from last weekend's squad, bows to outside opinion this time. The centre last played against Southland in Invercargill a week ago, scoring both Lions tries and saving them from what would have been the most humiliating defeat in living memory. Now that there are concerns over his physical readiness for a full-scale contest with the All Blacks, on top of worries over his mental state after his public displays of disappointment and frustration last week, the coach has a delicate decision to make.

Woodward made an equally difficult call yesterday - one that astonished most, if not all, of those who have been following this tour from the outset. He named Martin Corry, the Test No 8, on the blind-side flank in today's team, thereby signalling that there would be no place for him in the back row in Wellington. To most eyes, the Leicester man played his heart out in Christchurch and was far from the worst forward on view. In the eyes of the coaching team, however, a tactical switch is required.

"You have to take the good with the bad, and there's is no point making a martyr of myself," Corry said yesterday. "My immediate emotion is one of disappointment - you don't have to be a brain surgeon to work that out. Do I feel as though I'm carrying the can? No, I don't. I didn't make the impact I intended on Saturday and I regret that, because these are the games that stay with you for the rest of your life. The important thing is to get the tour back on track, and I have an opportunity here to help that along. If we go on to win the Test series and I'm not involved, I'll take that."

Corry can count himself extraordinarily unlucky, having carried one of the heavier workloads in the absence of the injured Lawrence Dallaglio. It seems Ryan Jones, the strikingly effective late arrival from Wales, will start the second Test at No 8, with Simon Easterby, another reinforcement, on the blind-side flank and the energetic Lewis Moody, a club colleague of Corry's at Welford Road, in the breakaway position. Jones has been a revelation in his appearances to date, while Easterby has been full of industry. But when a team finds itself fighting for its life, a Martin Corry in the trenches is a comfort rather than a disadvantage.

There are likely to be changes all over the place come Test day. Both Simon Shaw and Donncha O'Callaghan have big games ahead of them today - it is likely that one of them will play his way in the élite side - and there is a good deal of interest in Andrew Sheridan at loose-head prop and Gordon Bulloch at hooker, as well as across the back division. Anyone substituted at the interval after making his mark on the first half can be assumed to be in the running for the weekend.

Three of the starting line-up from the first Test - Stephen Jones, Gethin Jenkins and Ben Kay - were not considered for this game because of minor injuries. The casualty list is now so long that the Australian-born Welshman Brent Cockbain, called up for the disgraced Danny Grewcock, has been given an immediate place in the midweek squad, having joined the tour only yesterday.

Manawatu go in armed with only one Super 12 player to their name - the former Auckland Blues hooker Nathan Kemp, who will be making a first appearance for his new team. A number of others - three of the back-line, both half-backs, the rest of the front row and one of the locks - are also freshmen, having caught the eye of the coach, Charlie McAlister, with their performances in club rugby, or been imported from neighbouring provincial sides.

Manawatu: F Bryant; B Gray, J Campbell, M Oldridge, J Leota; G Smith, J Hargreaves; S Moore, N Kemp (capt), K Barrett, T Faleafaga, P Rodgers, H Triggs, J Bradnock, B Matenga. Replacements: S Easton, I Cook, P Maisiri, C Moke, D Palu, N Buckley, B Trew.

British and Irish Lions: G Murphy (Ireland); J Robinson (England), O Smith (England), G D'Arcy (Ireland), S Williams (Wales); C Hodgson (England), C Cusiter (Scotland); A Sheridan (England), G Bulloch (Scotland, capt), J Hayes (Ireland), S Shaw (England), D O'Callaghan (Ireland), M Corry (England), M Williams (Wales), M Owen (Wales). Replacements: A Titterrell (England), M Stevens (England), B Cockbain (Wales), N Back (England), G Cooper (Wales), R O'Gara (Ireland), M Cueto (England).

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