Hansen: B&I Lions will be 'ready to rumble'

Wed, 14 Dec 2016 08:31

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said Wednesday that the British and Irish Lions' vast depth would ensure they coped with next year's gruelling tour schedule in New Zealand.

The Lions play 10 matches on tour, including six before the first Test in Auckland, prompting concerns that players who have just completed their domestic seasons will be exhausted for the internationals.

But Hansen said the sides that contribute players to the Lions - England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland - had numerous quality players who could slot into the squad.

"In every position they've got real depth," he told Radio Sport.

"These guys are going to be able to play a really strong midweek team and also have a very strong Test team who are going to be fresh and ready to rumble."

Hansen predicted Lions coach Warren Gatland would adopt the same high-tempo, expansive game plan he employed with the Wales national team.

But he expected the Lions to implement it more efficiently that the Welsh, who slumped to a 3-0 series defeat in New Zealand this year after failing to match the All Blacks' intensity.

"The quality of play will be a lot higher than we've had from the Welsh team," Hansen said.

"That's no disrespect to the Welsh team, it's just the quality of the people they're going to have in that squad."

Some past Lions tours have descended into bickering between cliques of players from different nations and Hansen said a major challenge for Gatland was striking the right balance.

"If you don't manage it well then you have the opportunity for it to turn into a disaster," he said.

He said the All Blacks were relishing the prospect of taking on a Lions side containing some of the best the resurgent Northern Hemisphere nations have to offer.

"[They] know they're facing a really good side, it's not as if they're facing a poor Lions team," he said.

"The Six Nations are in good shape and playing good rugby so I'm very excited about it."

Hansen also admitted he was resigned to losing at least one of his backline stars to offers from cashed-up European clubs.

Aaron Cruden, Ben Smith and Israel Dagg have all been linked to overseas clubs, which would make them ineligible to play for the All Blacks.

"You're never going to retain everybody because we don't have the same amount of money as the England and the French [clubs], that's just the reality," he said.

"Will we keep all three of them? Probably not, but if we can keep two out of the three then that would be a positive."

Flyhalf Cruden has found himself behind Beauden Barrett in the All Blacks' pecking order, while Smith is 30 and comes off contract in 2017.

Dagg is also approaching the end of his international career and has already proved a point to selectors by forcing his way back into the All Blacks this year after being dropped for the 2015 World Cup.

Agence France-Presse

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