Warren Gatland has allayed fears over Robbie Henshaw’s fitness for the start of the Test series against the Springboks in three weeks’ time by intimating the Irish centre will only be ruled out of consideration for the next one or two matches.
“He’s got a very, very mild hamstring strain. He definitely won’t be considered for next Wednesday, then we’ll just assess his progress,” said Gatland in reference to the British & Irish Lions second tour match against the Sharks next Wednesday.
“We won’t push him if we don’t have to. It may be a couple of games, we just want to make sure he’s 100 per cent right because there’s no doubt he’s been one of the standout players in the Six Nations and the way he’s been playing – we’d like to get him back to full fitness without putting him under any pressure and be able to give him a couple of games before we start considering the Test side.”
Gatland seemed reasonably pleased with his sides’ opening effort on South African soil, a 56-14 win over the Sigma Lions in Johannesburg, all the more so as his medical team reported no injuries.
“The positive thing is that there’s still lots of things to work on. We’ve been getting better and better as a squad the more time we spend together. We made 14 changes.
“We put down bit of a marker but we know as a group that as a group we won’t be 100 per cent satisfied until we show lots of improvements, but we feel we can get there and make lots of improvements too.”
The game was notable for Josh Adams becoming the first player to score four tries for the Lions since Shane Williams scored five against Manawatu in 2005.
“The guy on the left wing did okay,” noted Gatland ironically when asked to single out individuals or other aspects of the performance.
“I was pleased with the bench, they brought some energy.
Probably we went in there with a gameplan that we had to adjust because we were getting a bit more success in terms of… they probably didn’t pressure us as much in defence as we had expected.
“So we were able to change the way we play, which was a pretty good reaction. I was just pretty pleased. The energy and enthusiasm with guys working hard to get back when they made a few breaks and we made a couple of mistakes.
“They were hard to get the ball off because there was a lot of one-pass rugby, two-pass rugby. When we turned it over they played lots of phases against us, but I thought it was a really positive start.”
True to his word that every member of the 38-man squad will be given a start in the opening three games, including last week’s win over Japan in Murryfield, Gatland confirmed: “The players who haven’t started will start on Wednesday.
“We’ve got a day off tomorrow. The non-23 had a tough hot out this morning with some fitness and skill work. We’re trying to get everyone on the same cycle, so we’re off tomorrow and will probably name the team to players tomorrow, (then) Monday training and then the captain’s run, so it’s a very short turnaround.
“I’ve been incredibly impressed with the players, their attitude and how they have been preparing with their own walk throughs and time on the laptops. It’s good for everyone to have a start in the first three games, so we’ll probably still be a little bit rusty with making so any changes, but we’ll see how we go on Wednesday.”
The backrow is shaping up to be particularly competitive, as expected, after a try-scoring man of the match performance by Hamish Watson at openside and a big game by Courtney Lawes.
“We’ve been really impressed with Courtney so far, he came on at second-row last week and then backrow today.
“His foot-work and workrate was fantastic, he does give us options for secondrow and backrow.
“The pleasing thing is we’ve got so much competition. It will be interesting to see next week a different sort of backrow with Tom Curry, (Josh) Navidi and Sam Simmonds. That’s pretty exciting as well.
“So, the competition is huge. We’re kind of not really, at the moment, trying to predict what a Test side looks like. We’re trying to let that unfold and see how the players keep performing, playing, how the combinations work.
“Then, we’ll start looking at our options. We definitely don’t want to pigeonhole anyone.
“We’re keeping an open mind about how we play and how we keep improving.”
The Government should buy a number of privately-owned direct provision centres as a “priority” as it would be more “cost effective” for the State to run the facilities for asylum seekers, international protection officials have said.
The savings arising from owning the accommodation centres rather than paying private contractors to do so “could be considerable”, departmental briefing documents provided to Minister for Children and Integration Roderic O’Gorman last year state.
The vast majority of direct provision centres are currently owned and run by private companies, with accommodation providers having received some €1.6 billion since 1999, including €183 million last year.
The latest figures show some 7,150 people are in the system of seven State-owned sites and 39 private centres. A further 24 commercially-owned premises are being used to provide emergency accommodation for asylum seekers.
The briefing document, released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act, says that housing people seeking asylum in State-owned centres would provide the “best protection from the vulnerability of present market reliance”.
“They are also much more cost efficient to run, and the State owns the asset,” it notes.
The document suggested that State centres should aim to accommodate 5,000 people, and “allowing the private sector to supply the rest is regarded as an achievable and reasonable target”.
The purchase of existing centres from private providers “to immediately boost the State’s footprint in this area should be considered as a priority,” the internal document said.
“Some service providers may be open to this and the market appears to be favourable at present,” it said.
The internal briefing suggested the department could then seek private companies or NGOs to run the centres, which would be a “competitive cost option”.
Ongoing maintenance for centres owned by the State was also “badly needed,” as current pressures on the Office of Public Works (OPW) meant it was not possible “for immediate repairs to be done if required”.
“In exploring the model of more State centres, we need to agree and acquire a capital budget,” the briefing stated.
“State land does not require planning permission for new centres as the Minister has a power under the Acts, whereby the OPW can grant the planning permission and this is usually a three-month process. It is not subject to appeal.”
The document says that State centres “can also have a bigger footprint as it will be a permanent fixture in the locality”. In recent years a number of plans for private providers to open direct provision centres in regional towns have been met with protests from locals and anti-immigration activists.
Mr O’Gorman’s department has sought to reform the direct provision system and is seeking to replace the network of centres with a new system of accommodation and supports by the end of 2024.
A department spokesman confirmed the State has not bought any new centres since the briefing note was written. The spokesman said under the planned overhaul of direct provision, asylum-seekers who arrived into the country would initially be housed in a number of reception and integration centres.
Asylum-seekers will spend a maximum of four months in the reception centres before moving into housing secured through Approved Housing Bodies.
“These centres will be State-owned and purpose built to provide suitable accommodation for approximately 2,000 people at any one time, to cater for the flow-through of the 3,500 applicants over a 12-month period,” he said.
Attached by a strap to a safety lanyard, 27-year-old Nathan Paulin slowly progressed barefoot on a line stretched across the river between the Eiffel Tower and the Chaillot Theatre.
He stopped for a few breaks, sitting or lying on the rope.
Paulin holds an umbrella as he performs, for the second time, on a 70-metre-high slackline spanning 670 metres between the Eiffel Tower and the Theatre National de Chaillot. (Photo by Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP)
“It wasn’t easy walking 600 metres, concentrating, with everything around, the pressure … but it was still beautiful,” he said after the performance on Saturday.
He said obtaining the necessary authorisations had been a difficulty for him, plus “the stress linked to the audience, the fact that there are a lot of people”.
Photo: (Photo by THOMAS COEX / AFP)
Paulin, holder of several world records, performed the feat to celebrate France’s annual Heritage Day – when people are invited to visit historic buildings and monuments that are usually closed to the public.
He said his motivation was “mainly to do something beautiful and to share it and also to bring a new perspective on heritage, it is to make heritage come alive”.
He had already crossed the River Seine on a tightrope, on Heritage Day in 2017.