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Sun Apr 30 05:11:33 SAST 2017

High expectations will weigh heavily on Lions

Reuters | 2017-04-21 08:00:13.0
ALL Blacks coach Steve Hansen. File photo
Image by: Andrew Couldridge / REUTERS

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen rates Warren Gatland's British and Irish Lions squad as one of the strongest in recent memory but has questioned how the touring side will cope with the pressure of expectations in New Zealand.

Gatland named his bumper 41-man squad for the 10-match tour on Wednesday, saying there were no clear stand-outs for starting players in a number of positions.

World Cup-winning coach Hansen was impressed by the depth at Gatland's disposal for the tour, which includes three internationals against the All Blacks.

"I think this is the best British and Irish Lions that we've seen come here for a long, long time," Hansen said at Christchurch's Rugby Park yesterday.

"They'll come with a lot of expectation and I think it is going to be interesting to see how they cope with that - a lot more expectation than they've been used to because people expect them to win."

Bookmakers expect the All Blacks to win the series, 12 years after they whitewashed a Clive Woodward-led Lions squad laden with World Cup winners. With five matches against New Zealand's dominant Super Rugby teams, Gatland said the Lions faced the "toughest tour" but seized upon Ireland's shock 40-29 win over the All Blacks in Chicago as proof that the All Blacks were only human.

Hansen shot back that the Lions staff would not want to base their selections on that result, given the All Blacks defeated the Irish 21-9 two weeks later in Dublin.

"You're clutching at straws if that's how you select teams."

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