Hansen says Li­ons will be ‘ready to rum­ble’ in NZ

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

WELLING­TON:

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said yes­ter­day 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.

‘RE­ALLY GOOD SIDE’

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 cashedup 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.” Fly-half 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. — AFP

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.

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