The British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand will start on June 3rd, with Warren Gatland’s men taking part in ten games that will be sure to test their super rugby credentials.
As the tournament falls right at the end of a tough season, it will be a big challenge for the Lions, especially since they will be without star player Billy Vunipola, who was one of England's most dominant forces in their Six Nations win earlier in the year.
Warren Gatland’s men will be looking for their first series win against New Zealand since 1971, and it will be their 12th tour of the country. Four years ago, the Lions beat Australia 2-1, could this tour end the same way?
What does the Lions squad look like?
This year’s British and Irish Lions squad is the largest ever, with 41 players selected overall. This is four more than the 37 that went to the tour of Australia in 2013, with 15 from England, 12 from Wales, 11 from Ireland and three from Scotland.
At 22, England flanker Maro Itoje is the youngest member of the squad, while 34-year-old Irishman Rory Best is the oldest. With an average age of 27.2, there’s a strong mix of youth and experience within the team that will certainly make them one of the top contenders.
Big names such as Owen Farrell, Johnny Sexton and Sean O’Brien will all be relied upon to challenge the All Blacks, while captain Sam Warburton will be relied upon as a leader throughout.
Of course, tiredness from a long season could be a factor in the Lions’ chances, but with a number of build-up games against some of New Zealand’s top super league sides, the squad will have time to gel and prepare for the three big tests.
Can the Lions topple the All Blacks?
New Zealand sit comfortably at the top of the world rankings and only Ireland were able to beat them last year. NZ racked up wins against Wales, South Africa, Australia, Italy, France and exacted revenge on Ireland in a return fixture later in the year.
Following the All Blacks’ World Cup heroics in 2015, the team have consolidated themselves as the best on the globe, even with the loss of talismen such as Richie McCaw and Dan Carter.
Brodie Retallick and Kieran Read are just two of the players that have stepped up to the plate in recent years, helping New Zealand to continue the momentum and remain the strongest force in world rugby.
However, injuries could be a huge blow for the All Blacks, with eight players battling to be fit for the first test against the Lions on June 24th. Kieran Read and Jerome Kaino are recovering from thumb and knee injuries respectively, while Ben Smith, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Bill Williams, Israel Dagg, Dane Coles and Liam Squire are all doubts.
While NZ do have strength in depth, big names such as Read, Smith and Coles will be difficult to replace if they are declared unfit.
The Lions have injury issues of their own with Billy Vunipola in particular set to be a massive loss, but Ireland’s 40-29 win over the All Blacks last year proved that they are not invincible and the upcoming tests could be their biggest challenges in years.