All Blacks coach Steve Hansen rated Warren Gatland’s British and Irish Lions squad as one of the strongest in recent memory, but has questioned how the touring side will cope with the pressure of expectations in New Zealand.
Gatland on Wednesday named his bumper 41-man squad for the 10-match tour, saying there was no clear stand-outs for starting players in a number of positions.
World Cup-winning coach Hansen was impressed by the depth at Gatland’s disposal for the tour, which includes three Tests against the All Blacks.
“I think this is the best British and Irish Lions that we’ve seen come here for a long, long time,” Hansen told reporters at Christchurch’s Rugby Park yesterday. “There is depth all the way through, that’s why people like [England’s Dylan] Hartley and some of the Scottish boys have missed out because there’s so much depth.”
“It’s going to be a very good side and they’ll come with a lot of expectation, which I think is going to be interesting to see how they cope with that,” he said. “A lot more expectation than they’ve been used to because people expect them to win.”
However, bookmakers expect the All Blacks to win the series, 12 years after they whitewashed a Clive Woodward-led Lions squad laden with English World Cup winners.
With five matches against New Zealand’s dominant Super Rugby teams, Gatland said the Lions faced the “toughest tour,” but seized upon Ireland’s shock 40-29 win over the All Blacks in Chicago in November last year as proof they were only human.
Hansen said that the Lions staff would not want to base their selections on that result, given that the All Blacks defeated Ireland 21-9 two weeks later in Dublin.
“I’m pretty happy that our guys got some confidence beating Ireland in Ireland,” he told New Zealand’s Radio Sport. “You’re clutching at straws if that’s how you are selecting teams. You pick players who can do the job you want them to do and play the style of game you want to play.”
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