The All Blacks are rugby’s Mt Ever­est

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The Lions tour of New Zealand is like ‘‘at­tempt­ing to con­quer rugby’s Mt Ever­est with­out oxy­gen with a storm gath­er­ing on the hori­zon’’, says for­mer Lion Stuart Barnes.

Writ­ing in The Times, Barnes who toured New Zealand with the Lions in 1993 with­out play­ing a test - said the Lions faced ‘‘too short a gap be­tween the [English] Premier­ship and Pro 12 fi­nals.

He says there are ‘‘too few op­po­nents [and] too easy an ini­tial fix­ture’’ against the New Zealand Bar­bar­ians.

He pre­dicted it would be the ‘‘tough­est tour in Lions his­tory’’.

‘‘To win a se­ries would be the great­est Lions tri­umph of all. To win more than 50 per cent of their games will be a de­cent ef­fort.’’

Barnes, a rugby colum­nist and tele­vi­sion com­men­ta­tor, said the Lions’ se­ries win­ning tour of Aus­tralia in 2013 was ‘‘just a stroll’’ com­pared with the New Zealand chal­lenge.

‘‘Just star­ing at the sched­ule is ex­cit­ing and un­nerv­ing.

‘‘The Lions could leave New Zealand with a 50/50 win­ning record and be a bet­ter team than the 2013 se­ries win­ners.

‘‘They could fea­si­bly lose eight matches, jeop­ar­dis­ing the Lions’ very fu­ture. They could win more than they lose.

‘‘If the wins in­cluded a test, the tour would re­turn in credit - or they could win the se­ries.

‘‘Beat­ing the Blues is cru­cial in keep­ing the dream alive. Win and the Lions have lee­way, lose and the storm clouds will roll into Christchurch filthy black, for­get those long white clouds,’’ Barnes’ said in his reg­u­lar Times col­umn.

His com­ments came af­ter watch­ing the Blues’ 28-24 loss to the Hur­ri­canes last Satur­day, in­spired by ‘‘the ge­nius of Beau­den Bar­rett’’.

The for­mer Eng­land first fiveeighths - once nick­named the Bath Bar­rel - said while Su­per Rugby had ‘‘over-ex­tended it­self’’ with the prod­uct sub­sti­tut­ing ‘‘breadth for depth’’, derby games be­tween the New Zealand fran­chises had been ex­cep­tional.

Barnes said the Blues’ five de­feats had come against New Zealand ri­vals and while ‘‘re­sults stack up against them’’, their per­for­mances were ‘‘on an up­ward curve’’.

The Times colum­nist pre­dicted the Blues would ‘‘throw men like Jerome Kaino into the fray’’ in a bid to desta­bilise the Lions, 17 days be­fore the first test.

With the Blues un­likely to make the Su­per Rugby play­offs, ‘‘their whole sea­son will re­volve around the Lions fix­ture’’.

But he ex­pected the Cru­saders in Christchurch would be ‘‘the first se­ri­ous test’’. and would ‘‘take the tour to the next level’’.

Barnes, who played the mid­week games in New Zealand in 1993, said de­feats in Auck­land and Christchurch in 2017 would put ‘‘un­bear­able pres­sure’’ on the Lions.

‘‘Win both games and the Lions can head to Otago to play the High­landers with a swag­ger; travel south on the back of con­sec­u­tive losses and every game be­comes the ‘‘must-win game’’ to bol­ster con­fi­dence be­fore the Test se­ries.

‘‘Lit­tle is given away. Lions tours are rev­ered in New Zealand. To tame the Lions is to make your own lit­tle slice of his­tory.’’

Barnes said the Lions would only be over­whelm­ing favourites in two matches - the tour opener against the New Zealand Bar­bar­ians (‘‘less a case of a ‘who’s who’ side than a ‘who’s he?’) and the New Zealand Maori fix­ture in Ro­torua a week be­fore the first test.

DANIEL MUNOZ

Bri­tish and Ir­ish Lions’ cel­e­brate a win over Aus­tralia.

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