Strength and depth will make next year’s British and Irish Lions far more exacting opponents than the traditional June touring teams to New Zealand.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen says a host of reasons point to the Lions series being an enthralling one – most notably the depth at the visitors’ disposal.
The comments come after the All Blacks inflicted a 3-0 series drubbing on Wales, completed with the comprehensive 46-6 win in Dunedin on Saturday.
It continues a solid history of mid-year failures in New Zealand from northern hemisphere sides but Hansen insists the Lions won’t suffer from the same level of season-ending flatness which hampered the Welsh.
“They’ll turn up here with a lot of depth,” he said.
“When you’ve got depth, you can rotate a little bit and not suffer so much from the fatigue factor of being a long season.”
The combined might of the Lions haven’t won a series in New Zealand since their sole triumph in 1971.
Hansen senses a quality squad will tour next year, based on recent form, led by England’s 3-0 series sweep in Australia.
“And Ireland’s just about knocked over South Africa, Wales have got some really good players and Scotland are going OK.
“Once they get the cobwebs out of that system and get them going together, they’re going to be a really good side.”
One uncertainty is how the Lions will handle a gruelling itinerary which features games against the five Kiwi Super Rugby teams and New Zealand Maori, along with three Tests.
Another is the identity of their coach, with New Zealander Warren Gatland having always been favoured after leading the Lions to success in Australia three years ago.
Despite overseeing Wales’ failed tour, Hansen suspects Gatland will get the nod.
“He’s got a pretty good record with them so he’s got to have a good show, doesn’t he?”
Meanwhile, Hansen says he is yet to decide whether to continue as All Blacks coach beyond the Lions tour, which currently marks the end of his contract.