Wellington - 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
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.