Wellington - Rugby World Cup-winning coach Graham Henry blasted the British and Irish Lions' "suicidal" New Zealand tour schedule on Tuesday, saying their confidence could be shot before they even face the All Blacks.
Henry, the only man to have ever coached both the Lions and the All Blacks, said the itinerary risked preventing the Lions building momentum in the June-July tour.
The tourists are set to face all five New Zealand Super Rugby teams and the Maori All Blacks, as well as three Test matches which are mostly loaded towards the back-end of the trip.
"I just wonder if the itinerary is suicidal, that's my concern," Henry told ESPN.
He said the Lions' Test build-up would be against highly-regarded opponents playing without pressure as they seek one of international rugby's most prized scalps.
The New Zealander pointed to Wales' morale-sapping 40-7 defeat against the Waikato Chiefs during a tour last year, when they lost the Test series 3-0.
"(The Lions) are remembered by the Test match results, but sides gain confidence and momentum through the games they play leading into those Test matches," he said.
"If they don't get success in those games, confidence is not going to be high and that is going to affect the way they play in the Test matches."
Henry was in charge during the Lions tour to Australia in 2001, when they lost the Test series 2-1, and led the All Blacks to World Cup triumph on home soil in 2011.
The Lions' coach for the upcoming tour, Warren Gatland, labelled the schedule "crazy" in 2015, long before he was appointed to lead the campaign in New Zealand.
But New Zealand Rugby chief Steve Tew defended it this month, saying it was what the Lions requested.
He said the Lions had asked for a tougher itinerary than they encountered during the 2013 tour to Australia, which was also led by Gatland and resulted in a 2-1 Test series win.
"They've actually got what they wanted," Tew told reporters.
Fixtures for the 2017 British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand:
June 3: v Provincial Union XV, Whangarei
June 7: v Blues, Auckland
June 10: v Crusaders, Christchurch
June 13: v Highlanders, Dunedin
June 17: v Maori All Blacks, Rotorua
June 20: v Chiefs, Waikato
June 24: 1ST TEST v NEW ZEALAND, Auckland
June 27: v Hurricanes, Wellington
July 1: 2ND TEST v NEW ZEALAND, Wellington
July 8: 3RD TEST v NEW ZEALAND, Auckland