British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland is about to name a 37-man squad charged with touring New Zealand in June and beating the All Blacks in a three-Test series. History and much more is against them.
This side will be called upon to play ten matches in five weeks, with the five Super Rugby franchises and New Zealand Maori on the list of opponents.
They commence the tour against the Provincial Barbarians, which will include some real up-and-coming players, possibly the future of New Zealand rugby.
The first thing that surprises me about this tour is the 37 players, that is just two playing 15s and seven reserves, and is nowhere near enough – injuries are going to take a toll for certain. Fatigue will be an immense factor as their opponents will all play the game at a pace few Northern Hemisphere players will be used to.
Unless the Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Crusaders and Hurricanes are severely depleted by All Blacks duty, they will all be favoured by their fans to produce serious opposition for the tourists.
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The New Zealand Maori will be formidable opponents, all Kiwis know the heart and commitment they will take to the field. The contact will at times be brutal, while the passion will mount following a Haka that will produce a crowd atmosphere second to none.
Some will say after this introduction to New Zealand rugby the Lions will be battle-hardened come the Test matches against the All Blacks, who will not have had the opportunity to play together and will be somewhat stale.
But the home side could well be facing a third-string Lions by the time these Tests roll around. The tourists will have been beaten up and if they have suffered losses, morale will be low.
Gatland is a New Zealander, I remember him playing club rugby at Murphy’s Field in Taupiri in club days. He was a hard-nosed front-row forward and has a good coaching record, but this tour seems to be a bridge too far for any team.
While I am sure the players selected will be the best available, and will be looking forward to an opportunity of a lifetime in beating the All Blacks in their own backyard, I see a different outcome.
The New Zealand public will expect their teams to dish out much pain and anguish, and send the tourists back to the Northern Hemisphere with their tails well and truly between their legs.
The NZRFU will however ultimately reap the rewards, as the turnstiles are sure wrack up huge spectator numbers and TV royalties.